The NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee (“Committee”) recently reviewed the Committee on Infractions’ (“COI”) decision relating to Saint Mary’s College of California (“SMC”). COI found that SMC violated multiple NCAA bylaws and the case included allegations of intentional violations of NCAA bylaws concerning impermissible recruiting inducements provided to prospective student-athletes and unethical conduct on the part of a then assistant men’s basketball coach who later became the director of men’s basketball operations, as well as extra benefits, a failure to promote an atmosphere for compliance and a failure to monitor by the head men’s basketball coach. COI, therefore, issued substantial penalties including four years of probation and reduction in grant-in-aids for men’s basketball. A more thorough analysis of COI’s decision can be found here.
On appeal, SMC asserted that specific penalties for the reduction of grants-in-aid, restrictions on foreign tours, and limitations on skill instruction should be set aside. Subsequently, SMC withdrew their appeal of restrictions on foreign tours and limitations on skill instruction. SMC then argued that the reduction on grants-in-aid is “excessive such that it constitutes an abuse of discretion.”
In reviewing the penalties imposed by COI, the Committee set forth the standard for abuse of discretion, according to the Alabama State University case, as follows:
“[A]n abuse of discretion in the imposition of a penalty occurs if the penalty: (1) was not based on a correct legal standard or was based on the misapprehension of the underlying substantive legal principles; (2) was based on a clearly erroneous factual finding; (3) failed to consider and weigh material factors; (4) was based on a clear error of judgment, such that the imposition was arbitrary, capricious, or irrational; or (5) was based in significant part on one or more irrelevant or improper factors.”
SMC argued that the additional grant-in-aid penalties imposed by COI are excessive in light of previous cases, specifically when compared to what SMC believed were similar violations in the University of Connecticut case. The Committee, however, stated that even if they agree with SMC’s argument, it is required to only determine whether the penalty was excessive based on an abuse of discretion standard. As such, the Committee noted that the record does not support SMC’s contentions. The Committee further noted that COI has significant discretion in its ability to fashion appropriate penalties for the overall infractions at issue in a particular case. The Committee will not find an abuse of discretion in an instance where a review of previous cases results in reasonable differences of opinion as to the application to the current case before COI. Accordingly, the Committee upheld the penalties on reduction of grants-in-aid.