'Egregious' Failure to Control Athletics

The University of the District of Columbia has entered a pantheon, but not of the sort that any institution strives for.

October 30, 2008

The University of the District of Columbia has entered a pantheon, but not of the sort that any institution strives for.

Under penalties announced Wednesday by the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division II Committee on Infractions, UDC became one of just 15 sports programs in any NCAA division to be placed on five years of probation. It became one of at most a small handful of institutions to see all of its teams barred from postseason competition for a year. And, from a search of the NCAA's database of major infractions, it appears to be the first university ever to have had seasons canceled, teams barred from postseason play, scholarship and recruiting limitations -- and to have had multiple former officials restricted from future involvement in sports-related activities, including one faculty member/dean.

"This case presented the single most egregious lack of institutional control ever seen by the committee," the members of the Division II infractions panel said in their report on the case. While that judgment applies only to the few hundred colleges in Division II, the breadth of the university's violations and the significance of the penalties against it makes it one of the most sweeping in the entire 1,000-member association.

At the core of UDC's problems were its abject failure to do the basic function of keeping track of which athletes were eligible to compete and how much financial aid they were supposed to receive. The university had about 90 athletes a year from 2000-1 to 2003-4, but still an "astounding" 248 enrolled athletes (and two prospective ones) were either allowed to practice or compete while academically ineligible or received impermissible athletically related financial aid or housing, the NCAA panel noted.

While that level of mismanagement would have been bad enough, the NCAA panel suggested, the situation at the University of the District of Columbia was made worse by the fact that the problems recurred less than a decade after the NCAA whacked UDC for a similar set of violations that occurred in 1991.

Beyond that, several university officials at the time the violations were committed earlier this decade went out of their way to obstruct rather than cooperate with the NCAA's investigation. "On eight occasions between April 2004 and December 2006, the university gave the staff specific dates on which the final self-report would be submitted," failing to meet every one of those deadlines, the Division II infractions panel said. "The university also disregarded the enforcement staff's request to refrain from interviewing four key principals in the investigation" during the course of the investigation, choosing to interview the individuals."

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the university's former athletics director and faculty athletics representative violated the association's ethical conduct rules, either by refusing to answer questions in interviews (as the former athletics director, Michael McLeese, did), or providing "false and misleading information," as the NCAA said the former faculty representative did. The athletics director at the time was Michael McLeese, who was also the men's basketball coach; the faculty representative was Alvin Darby, assistant dean of UDC's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The involvement of a faculty member in such violations is highly unusual.

Both former officials are subject to what the NCAA calls "show cause orders," which means that during the five-year period under which UDC will be on probation, they will be prohibited from any involvement in athletically related activities at any NCAA member institution.

Among the other penalties for UDC:

  • The university canceled the seasons of its men's and women's basketball, men's and women's tennis, and men's and women's cross country teams in either 2004-5 or 2005-6.
  • UDC also eliminated all paid recruiting visits in this and the next academic year for athletes in men's basketball, women's basketball, men's soccer, women's volleyball, men's tennis, women's tennis, men's cross country and women's cross country.
  • The NCAA vacated the team and individual records of all contests from 2000-1 to 2003-4 in which ineligible athletes participated in those same eight sports.
  • The association reduced scholarships for the next two years in all sports.

Officials at the university did not return messages seeking comment on the NCAA's actions. But the NCAA praised the university's current officials for taking the situation seriously and beginning to work to fix the longstanding problems.


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