The NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee (“Committee”) recently reviewed the Committee on Infractions’ (“COI”) decision relating to the University of Central Florida (“UCF”). COI found that UCF violated multiple NCAA bylaws governing recruiting, impermissible benefits and recruiting inducements, and lack of institutional control. COI, therefore, issued substantial penalties including a postseason ban for the UCF football team. A more thorough analysis of COI’s decision can be found here.
On appeal, UCF asserted the football postseason ban should be vacated in that it 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.”
In reviewing the report prepared by COI, the Committee noted that COI’s rationale for the football postseason penalty was so intricately woven with factors only supportive of the basketball postseason penalty as to make it impossible to determine whether these additional factors formed a significant basis of COI’s imposition of the football postseason penalty in addition to the full range of other significant penalties placed on UCF’s football program. COI did not make it clear the extent to which the finding of lack of institutional control is based on the infractions in football as opposed to the infractions in basketball. Thus, the Committee resolved these “ambiguities” in favor of UCF and concluded that the penalty imposed was an abuse of discretion.
The Committee went on to state that the penalties applied to basketball and football, when viewed side by side, appear to be inconsistent relative to the disparities in conduct and material factors applicable to each program. In conclusion, the Committee held “when the record creates the appearance that the Committee on Infractions relied on material factors not present for a particular sport to access the penalty and there is no evidence in the record that the Committee on Infractions weighed the potential absence of those factors in its determination, the committee finds the Committee on Infractions abused its discretion by failing to appropriately consider and weigh material factors.”