The University of Massachusetts will be appealing a ruling by the NCAA that could erase 59 wins from men’s basketball and an Atlantic 10 Conference women’s tennis title.
The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions’ decision came in a 20-page report released Friday morning. The school was fined $5,000, placed on two years probation, will have to vacate its 2017 Atlantic 10 women’s tennis title, and the aforementioned basketball victories. This all occurred between 2014 and 2017, and does not involve any current program or head coach.
“Unfortunately, the news we received at 10 o’clock this morning was really news that was disappointing to me and to this university, given the nature of this case and how we’ve handled this case as an upstanding NCAA member,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said. “The penalties associated with the case are deeply disappointing in the respect that the NCAA asked us to vacate wins that impacted coaches and student-athletes especially, that had no knowledge that any of these financial aid mistakes, that were inadvertent and accidental, had occurred.”
Along with the fine and the vacating of victories, UMass will be on probation from Oct. 16, 2020 until Oct. 15, 2022. It will also have to inform men’s basketball and women’s tennis recruits that it is on probation. Prospective student-athletes will need to be informed before signing a National Letter of Intent. The school will also have to provide a link to what happened on its athletic department website.
Bamford, who became AD at the school in March of 2015, said UMass had self-reported the violations and had negotiated the fine and one-year probation. The NCAA’s COI determined the punishment should include an extra year of probation and the vacating of the victories. It is the latter that has prompted the school, with the support of the Atlantic 10 Conference, to appeal.
According to the report, over three academic years, UMass provided impermissible financial aid on 13 instances to 12 student-athletes in two sport programs when it awarded them financial aid in excess of their full cost of attendance. The impermissible financial aid rendered the student-athletes ineligible. Thereafter, the student-athletes competed while ineligible in 186 contests and UMass provided them with impermissible actual and necessary expenses associated with those competitions.
The report goes on to say that the eight student-athletes received a telecom fee after moving from on-campus to off-campus housing, while four students received more money than they should have in the difference between on-campus and off-campus housing. The total amount of impermissible aid received in both cases was $9,100. At the time the infractions occurred, no coach, athlete or administrator had known the additional aid had been doled out.
Bamford, on a Zoom call with members of the local and national media, said that the school was willing to pay the fine, or pay a larger fine, and take the probation. But Bamford said the vacating of wins might have been a bridge too far.
“Vacation is intended as an institutional penalty to address unearned competitive or recruiting advantages. In this case, neither of them happened,” the UMass AD said. “We made unintentional mistakes. We gained no advantage in recruiting, no advantage in competition. Where this particularly hurts is we have to tell our women’s tennis players that as of now, until our appeal is heard, we have to vacate that championship. All because two women in our tennis program received $252 each impermissibly.”
Bamford appeared on the Zoom conference with Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade, who came out forcefully in support of UMass’ decision to appeal the penalty.
“Within the context of higher education, intercollegiate athletics and even more specifically where our country is right now, it’s really, really unfortunate that this decision and set of penalties was handed down,” she said. “Understanding that the committee on infractions is made up of a lot of great professionals who volunteer their time to participate in a process. I think there’s a misappropriation and maybe we are at a point in time where the [NCAA] needs to have a reset, quite frankly. To take the time, the effort and the energy, not to mention the financial resources that were spent on this case by the NCAA to adjudicate what was — quite frankly — an administrative mistake and could be classified as a minor administrative mistake.”
While both Bamford and McGlade were openly critical of the decision to vacate the tennis championship and those basketball victories, to the average sports fan, the term “probation” probably perked up a lot of eyebrows. But in this case, UMass will still be eligible to play for A-10 and NCAA titles. The school will have to let the NCAA know when rules education will be undertaken, and when staffers go to regional rules seminars.
“That’s the biggest misconception here,” Bamford said in response to a question about the term probation. “There is no postseason or other ineligibility. It really does not impact us competitively or in recruiting moving forward.”