Getting in trouble with the National Collegiate Athletic Association can damage a college sports program in a big way, financially, reputationally and otherwise. So most colleges, particularly those that play at the highest levels, have professionalized their systems for staying within the rules, hiring staffs of "compliance" officers charged with keeping them out of trouble. In Arizona State University's case, though, it didn't quite work.
The NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions announced on Thursday that it had placed Arizona State on two years' probation largely because one of its compliance assistants, who the university has since fired, broke a bunch of rules.
During the university's investigation into her actions, the NCAA committee said, Arizona State officials happened to discover that 61 athletes had received excessive financial aid -- ranging from all of $4 up to several hundreds -- which the NCAA said resulted from a "lack of institutional control," one of the more serious violations in the association's enforcement structure.
The financial aid violations "appeared unintentional and the student-athletes seemed unaware that they had received too much aid," said Gene Marsh, a law professor at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, who heads the infractions panel. "However, the widespread and preventable nature of these violations compelled the committee to find lack of institutional control."
There was nothing unintentional about the behavior of the former compliance assistant, Marsh said in a telephone news conference Thursday, adding that the situation was particularly disturbing because she was "violating the very rules she was supposed to be enforcing."
Arizona State's investigation found that the former assistant had let an athlete use her personal charge account to buy tires for his car and arranged for him to receive improper financial aid for a summer course he did not take, among other things. She also gave that athlete and another textbooks from her office, which they sold for cash.
The infractions panel said it would require the former compliance assistant, who was found to have violated the NCAA's rules against unethical conduct, to appear before it if another college sports program sought to hire her within the next six years.
Marsh said that it was highly unusual for sports officials charged with keeping the rules to be involved in breaking them. "Most schools are pretty doggone serious about compliance," he said. "We sure haven't had many cases where it is someone within the compliance office who's created the problem."