Illegal practices led by its former coach have resulted in Ohio Northern University's highly ranked Division III football team being barred from postseason play this season.
The NCAA announced the postseason ban Wednesday, along with two years of probation, stemming from practice sessions that the university's former head coach, Thomas H. Kaczkowski, conducted in the summer of 2003. Division III rules prohibit official mid-summer practice sessions “to ensure competitive equity and to mitigate time demands,” said Jone Dowd, chair of the Division III Committee on Infractions and senior woman's administrator at Catholic University.
Kaczkowski ran “throwing sessions” with his quarterback and some wide receivers twice a week throughout the summer, and then began official practice August 18, a week ahead of the earliest practice day allowed. Kaczkowski asserted that the sessions were voluntary, but players told both Ohio Northern and NCAA investigators that Kaczkowski and an assistant coach had pursued them and tried to find out why they weren’t attending the sessions.
To make matters worse, when Ohio Northern began an investigation, Kaczkowski “tried to persuade other coaches and students” to say he was “hardly present at the sessions,” Dowd said.
During the investigation, Kaczkowski told investigators he did not know the practices were illegal, according to the NCAA report on the Ohio Northern case. But, after 17 years coaching the Polar Bears, “his contention that he somehow was unaware of these basic tenets of competition was unpersuasive,” reads the report, which also notes that the coach must have known that summer practices were illegal, because he wrote a letter to the athletic director in 1999 claiming not to be conducting them.
When the university became aware of the practice sessions in the fall of 2003, it placed Kaczkowski on leave, and then fired him in 2004. Because Ohio Northern dismissed him, and he has not coached since, the NCAA decided to take no further actions against Kaczkowski. Dowd said Ohio Northern did a good job with its own investigation, but penalties were still levied because “the institution was negligent before violations took place in providing proper supervision,” Dowd said.
During the two probationary years, football administrators and coaches will have to attend compliance seminars, and administrators will have to update the D-III Committee on Infractions about efforts to ensure future compliance.
After Kaczkowski was fired in 2004, he sued the university, alleging that he was wrongfully fired and deprived of more than $80,000 in salary and benefits. According to Ohio Northern officials, the case was dismissed in June 2005, and Kaczkowski has appealed.
The Polar Bears, who are ranked eighth in the nation Division III in in the American Football Coaches Association poll, will appeal the postseason ban. "We do not understand why our current student-athletes are being punished for a violation that occurred two years ago that had nothing to do with them," according to a statement by Kendall Baker, president of Ohio Northern. “We accept the two-year probation and the remainder of their findings, but we will appeal the playoff ban.”
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