The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee”) recently issued its findings and found that Fordham University (“Fordham”) committed major violations of NCAA legislation. After the investigation concluded the case was submitted to the Committee through the summary disposition process, which is an alternative to a formal hearing before the Committee that may be utilized when the NCAA enforcement staff, the member institution, and involved individuals agree to the facts of an infractions case and that those facts constitute major violations of NCAA legislation.
This case involves the institution impermissibly awarding athletically-related financial aid to numerous prospective student-athletes prior to their full-time enrollment. In the summer sessions from 2008 through 2011, the institution provided financial aid to 87 prospective student-athletes enrolled in less than six hours of academic course work. The prospective student-athletes were enrolled in courses prior to their initial full-time enrollment at the institution and, thus, in violation of NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199.4, which requires enrollment in at least six credits for such students. The violations were a product of mistaken beliefs by the athletics academic advising and athletics compliance offices surrounding a potential rule change, and a failure to monitor that would have caught mistakes.
The Committee found that Fordham committed the following violations of NCAA legislation:
1. The institution impermissibly awarded athletically related financial aid to prospective student-athletes prior to their initial full-time enrollment in violation of NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52.4-(b).
Over the course of four years, the institution impermissibly awarded 87 prospective student-athletes athletically-related financial aid prior to their initial full-time enrollment when they had not initially enrolled in the minimum six credit hours.
The director and academic advisor for student-athletes and the senior associate academic advisor relied on a 2005 NCAA official interpretation (AMA interpretation dated 6/29/05) and advised prospective student-athletes to enroll in six credit hours, but then withdraw from one of the courses as late as the final day of the session’s withdrawal period. This resulted in the prospective student-athletes receiving a “W” in the course. This practice soon caught the attention of campus officials who raised concerns about the negative effects of prospective student-athletes withdrawing at the last minute. The athletics academic advising office devised a solution, whereby prospective student-athletes would enroll in six credit hours and immediately withdraw from three. The immediate withdrawal avoided any negative effect on class rosters and would avoid prospective student-athletes received a “W” on their academic records. Around the same time, a 2007 bylaw change proposal (Proposal No. 2007-72) that would have dropped the minimum credit requirements from six to three hours was under consideration. The institution never implemented the solution because it was waiting to see if the membership would adopt the proposal. The proposal was defeated and the six-hour requirement remained.
The athletics compliance office believed that the proposal’s defeat had been communicated to the athletics academic advisors and assumed the solution had been implemented. As a result of the mistaken belief, when reviewing summer academic data, the athletics compliance office did not find prospective student-athletes’ three-hour enrollments or the lack of a “W” troubling because they assumed the solution had been implemented. The athletics compliance office did not follow-up with the athletics academic advising office.
A breakdown in intra-campus communication resulted in the mistaken beliefs within the athletics academic advising office and the athletics compliance office. Due in large part to these mistaken beliefs, the institution awarded prospective student-athletes athletically related financial aid prior to their full-time enrollment despite only initially enrolling in three-credit hours. This receipt of aid violated the requirements of NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206.4-(b) because the prospective student-athletes were not, at least initially, enrolled in the required six credit hours. As a result, the student-athletes immediately became ineligible.
2. The institution failed to monitor the award of athletically related financial aid to prospective student-athletes prior to their full-time enrollment in violation of NCAA Constitution 2.8.1.
From the summer of 2008 through the summer of 2011, the institution failed to monitor the circumstances surrounding the award of athletically-related financial aid to prospective student-athletes prior to their full-time enrollment. The institution’s shortcomings in understanding, communicating and implementing proper policies, and monitoring the applicable NCAA legislation resulted in the institution’s failure to monitor.
First, the athletics academic advising staff did not adequately understand the applicable NCAA legislation. The athletics academic advising office misinterpreted the director of compliance’s statement regarding the proposal. The athletics academic advising office failed to do its due diligence and subsequently follow-up with the athletics compliance office or conduct an LSDBi search to determine the status of the proposal.
Second, the athletics compliance office did not adequately communicate the proposal’s status to the athletics academic advising office. Knowing of the proposal’s defeat, the athletics compliance staff failed to formally convey that knowledge to the athletics academic advising staff and ensure that the solution was implemented.
Third, the institution did not implement proper policies to ensure compliance with the bylaws. The solution was designed to meet the bylaws’ requirements. However, the athletics academic advising office failed to implement the solution and the athletics compliance staff failed to adequately ensure that proper policies were in place by reviewing prospective student-athletes’ receipt of athletically related aid.
Finally, the institution failed to sufficiently monitor the work of the athletics academic advising office required prospective student-athletes to enroll in six credit hours. However, the institution never reviewed prospective student-athletes academic records to ensure that this occurred.
The institution failed to monitor the award of athletically related financial aid to prospective student-athletes prior to their full-time enrollment because the applicable NCAA legislation was misunderstood, there was a failure in intra-campus communication, the institution did not implement solution and campus officers were not sufficiently monitored.
As a result of the aforementioned violations, the Committee penalized Fordham as follows:
1. Public reprimand and censure.
2. Two years of probation from November 26, 2013 through November 25, 2015.
3. A fine of $20,000.00 paid to the NCAA (i.e., $5,000.00 per year for each year of the violations).
4. The academic advisor, director of compliance, and other on-campus personnel shall attend the 2013 NCAA regional rules seminars.
5. Within six months, the institution’s athletics department shall undergo a comprehensive compliance review by an outside agency with athletics compliance expertise.