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All Play and No Work

September 3, 2009

Georgetown University has reimbursed the U.S. Department of Education for nearly $62,000 in federal work study payments it gave to 26 baseball players over the course of seven years for employment the athletes did not complete.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Committee on Infractions released a report Wednesday detailing the first major infractions case in Georgetown’s history. In 2007, as a result of a routine athletics department audit, Georgetown officials discovered “irregularities” in the distribution of federal work study dollars to baseball players. Officials from the university self-reported these violations to the NCAA and say they will not appeal its decision to place them on a three-year probation and make them vacate all the wins from the 2000-1 to the 2006-7 seasons in which the improperly paid players participated.

Daniel R. Porterfield, interim director of athletics at Georgetown, said at a news conference following the NCAA’s decision that the institution addressed the matter with the Department of Education immediately after the infraction was discovered, acknowledging that the questionable disbursement of these work study funds probably violated federal financial aid laws. He added that the institution has reimbursed the funds to the Department of Education and considers the mattered resolved.

During the seven seasons in question, several baseball players eligible for federal work study worked to earn their benefits by completing routine tasks like maintaining the team’s baseball field, distributing team equipment and doing laundry. Instead of keeping accurate time sheets documenting precisely when they started and stopped working, the players were instructed by an assistant baseball coach (whom athletics officials would not name, but confirmed no longer works at Georgetown) to record a maximum of 20 hours per week on the time sheets “with the understanding that they would be assigned and would complete work sufficient to warrant payment for those hours.”

This decision not to track the actual hours for these work study athletes was made in 2000, when the team moved to a new baseball field that was located many miles off campus. The NCAA report notes that “there developed a general understanding that keeping track of the specific work intervals, which occurred at various times, in various increments, and often off campus, was too difficult and not required.”

The unidentified assistant coach told the NCAA committee that he “never instructed student-athletes to submit time [sheets] that would result in their being paid for more hours than they actually worked,” adding that he “perceived work-study payment as a financial aid entitlement for financially needy baseball students-athletes, provided the student-athletes fulfilled the designated assignments and duties.” These players received between $8 and $9 per hour for their work -- about the same range that most work study students at Georgetown receive -- and used the money to supplement their partial athletics scholarships. The baseball team has only five full scholarships, which it distributes among several dozen players.

Still, Georgetown’s self-report to the NCAA notes that during the average off-season from 2000-1 through 2005-6, the players “legitimately earned” only 30 percent of their work study pay. This figure plummeted to 10 percent during the 2006-7 off-season.

Though the assistant coach who was in charge of these work-study players no longer works at Georgetown, Pete Wilk -- the head baseball coach who has been at the institution for 10 years -- will remain despite this major infraction. Porterfield said Wilk would not be let go because the university and the NCAA reports make the case that Wilk did not know about the infractions until they were discovered.

Photo: Georgetown Sports Information

Pete Wilk, head baseball coach.

“I am profoundly sorry that I didn’t take an active hand in this oversight,” Wilk told the NCAA committee, as noted in the report. “If I had overseen the program properly as I should have, none of us would be here today.”

Though Wilk admitted to this “failure to monitor” the work study program, the NCAA also blamed the institution for not providing enough oversight to prevent this infraction.

Porterfield, however, said the university’s main financial aid office did not share any culpability for the violations. He said that it determines the work study eligibility for all students but that the individual university departments are responsible for the day-to-day paperwork of ensuring that dollars are distributed properly. Porterfield said the university’s main financial aid office does periodic audits to ensure that these types of abuses do not take place, but placed sole blame on the athletics department for this violation.

In addition to the probation and the vacation of records, Georgetown must pay the NCAA a $61,552 penalty, equal to the improper benefits paid to the baseball players, even though it has already reimbursed the Department of Education this amount. Further, the institution will no longer allow its athletes to complete work study employment for the teams on which they play.

In an apologetic letter to students, faculty and staff, Georgetown’s president expressed remorse for the violation.

“While this mistake is certainly unacceptable, it is important to note that the investigation concluded that the individuals involved did not intend to cheat or violate NCAA rules and that Georgetown's baseball program did not receive any competitive advantage as a result of these infractions,” wrote John J. DeGioia.

Paul Dee, chair of the Committee on Infractions and lecturer of law and education at the University of Miami, said he does not believe that violations of this sort, involving athletes improperly receiving federal financial aid, are widespread. He noted that he could only recall two other such cases in the past two decades.

 

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