The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions (“COI” or “Committee” or “panel”) is an independent administrative body of the NCAA comprised of individuals from the Division I membership and the public. COI decides infractions cases involving member institutions and their staffs. This case involved George Mason University (“GMU” or “George Mason” or “institution”) and multiple financial aid violations, including (1) provision of financial aid exceeding the institution’s full cost of attendance on 27 instances to 18 student-athletes across four sports; (2) issuance of grant-in-aid renewal agreements to student-athletes without the signature from the institution’s regular financial aid authority; and (3) improperly calculated equivalencies in men’s volleyball. The violations also support that the institution failed to monitor its provision of financial aid. The institution self-detected and self-reported the initial violations, and the parties engaged in a collaborative investigation to determine their scope.
In September 2019, George Mason hired a new deputy athletics director for compliance (deputy athletics director). In December 2019, when the institution was preparing to apply athletics aid to student-athletes’ accounts for the spring semester, the deputy athletics director discovered that the institution over-awarded financial aid to men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes in the previous fall semester. In light of this discovery, the deputy athletics director then reviewed athletics and nonathletics aid that the institution provided to each men’s and women’s basketball student-athlete since matriculation. The deputy athletics director discovered that the institution provided financial aid over full cost of attendance to 10 women’s and four men’s basketball student-athletes. The institution immediately declared these student-athletes ineligible and requested their reinstatement. Further, the institution discovered four additional student-athletes, totaling 17 student-athletes across four sports, who received excessive aid and competed while ineligible. Sixteen of the student-athletes were reinstated while two of the student-athletes exhausted eligibility before the institution discovered the violations.
The investigation also revealed that the compliance staff requested an e-signature from the director of financial aid (director) for athletics aid agreements in the fall of 2016. However, the director confirmed that neither she nor any designee in the financial aid department reviewed or signed athletics aid agreements the subsequent three years. Additionally, the institution determined that the men’s volleyball program exceeded permissible equivalencies in the 2018-19 academic year because it incorrectly logged over $50,000.00 of countable nonathletics aid as noncountable. After the institution corrected the error and appropriately attributed the countable aid to the men’s volleyball program, it determined that the team equivalency in men’s volleyball for the 2018-19 academic year was 4.94, .44 above the permissible 4.5 team equivalency limit.
Because of her receipt of excessive aid, a women’s basketball student-athlete (student-athlete 7) was required to complete community service as an eligibility reinstatement condition. The deadline to complete the community service was March 1, 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s basketball staff departures and the director of compliance’s departure, the institution erroneously permitted student-athlete 7 to compete in one contest prior to her completion of community service. Student-athlete 7 subsequently completed her requirements April 16 and was reinstated without further conditions. The NCAA enforcement staff and institution agreed that this violation is Level III.
This case was resolved through the negotiated resolution process.
The Committee concluded GMU committed the following violations of NCAA rules:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual 12.11.1, 15.1, 188.8.131.52 and 16.8.1 (2016-17 through 2019-20), and 184.108.40.206.1 and 220.127.116.11 (2018-19) (Level II)
The institution and enforcement staff agreed that from the 2016-17 through 2019-20 academic years, the institution improperly provided financial aid exceeding the institution’s full cost of attendance on 27 instances to 18 student-athletes across four sports, contrary to NCAA financial aid legislation. The total value of the impermissible financial aid was approximately $35,810.00. Further, from the 2016-17 through 2019-20 academic years, the institution issued grant-in-aid renewal agreements to its student-athletes without the signature from the institution’s regular financial aid authority. Lastly, during the 2018-19 academic year, the institution improperly calculated equivalencies in men’s volleyball. As a result of the impermissible financial aid, 17 student-athletes practiced, competed in 196 contests and received actual and necessary expenses while ineligible.
From the 2016-17 through 2019-20 academic years, the institution improperly provided financial aid exceeding the institution’s full cost of attendance, which consisted of amounts in excess of permitted financial aid of $1,961.00 (2016-17), $889.00 (2017-18), $18,236.89 (2018-19), and $14,793.13 (2019-20). NCAA Bylaw 15.1 (2016-17 through 2019-20).
During the 2016-17 through 2019-20 academic years, the athletics department used the director of financial aid’s e-signature to sign the grant-in-aid agreements without requesting permission or approval. Therefore, the institution issued grant-in-aid renewal agreements to all its student-athletes without an appropriate signature from the institution’s regular financial aid authority or designee. NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168 (2016-17 through 2019-20).
In the 2018-19 academic year, the institution incorrectly logged countable nonathletics aid as noncountable. When the aid was correctly categorized, the institution’s men’s volleyball program had a team equivalency total of 4.94, which exceeded the permitted maximum of 4.5. NCAA Bylaws 22.214.171.124.1 and 126.96.36.199 (2018-19).
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual 12.11.1 (2020-21) (Level III)
The institution and enforcement staff agreed that on March 10, 2021, the institution permitted student-athlete 7 to compete while ineligible. Specifically, the institution had declared student-athlete 7 ineligible due to her involvement in the violations detailed above and sought reinstatement for her eligibility, but erroneously permitted her participation in one contest before she completed required community service. Student-athlete 7 subsequently completed her requirements April 16 and was reinstated without further conditions.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Constitution 2.8.1 (2016-17 through 2019-20) (Level II)
The institution and enforcement staff agreed that during the 2016-17 through 2019-20 academic years, the scope and nature of the violations detailed above demonstrated that the institution violated the NCAA principle of rules compliance when it failed to (a) implement monitoring systems to discover miscalculations of athletics aid, (b) obtain required signatures from the institution’s regular financial aid authority or designee and (c) adequately educate individuals in compliance and financial aid so they could appropriately monitor the administration of athletics aid.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4.
Aggravating Factors for the Institution
19.9.3-(g): Multiple Level II violations by the institution; and
19.9.3-(i): One or more violations caused significant ineligibility or other substantial harm to a student-athlete.
Mitigating Factors for the Institution
19.9.4-(b): Prompt acknowledgement of the violation, acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures and/or penalties;
19.9.4-(c): Affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter; and
19.9.4-(d): An established history of self-reporting Level III or secondary violations.
19.9.4-(h): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations by the institution.
The Committee penalized GMU as follows:
1. Public reprimand and censure.
2. Probation: One year of probation from September 14, 2021, through September 13, 2022.
3. Financial Penalty: The institution shall pay a fine of $5,000 to the NCAA.
4. Scholarship Reductions: The institution shall reduce the number of grants-in-aid awarded to men’s volleyball by a total of .44 (10%) over the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years. The institution shall be limited to no more than 8.56 grants-in-aid in men’s volleyball for the combined 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.
5. Selected staff members in the financial aid department must attend one Regional Rules Seminar by July 2022.
6. Vacation of Team and Individual Records: Ineligible participation in the men’s basketball, women’s basketball and women’s volleyball programs occurred over four years as a result of violations in this case. Therefore, pursuant to NCAA Bylaws 19.9.7-(g) and 188.8.131.52 and NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions Internal Operating Procedure (IOP) 5-15-7, the institution shall vacate all regular season and conference tournament wins, records and participation in which the ineligible student-athletes competed from the time they became ineligible through the time they were reinstated as eligible for competition. Further, if the ineligible student-athletes participated in NCAA postseason competition at any time they were ineligible, the institution’s participation8 in the postseason contests in which the ineligible competition occurred shall be vacated. The individual records of the ineligible student-athletes shall also be vacated. However, the individual finishes and any awards for all ineligible student-athletes shall be retained. Further, the institution’s records regarding its men’s basketball, women’s basketball and women’s volleyball programs, as well as the records of the head coaches, shall reflect the vacated records and be recorded in all publications in which such records are reported including, but not limited to, institutional media guides, recruiting material, electronic and digital media plus institutional, conference and NCAA archives. Any institution that may subsequently hire the affected head coach shall similarly reflect the vacated wins in their career records documented in media guides and other publications cited above. Head coaches with vacated wins on their records may not count the vacated wins toward specific honors or victory “milestones” such as 100th, 200th or 500th career victories. Any public reference to the vacated records shall be removed from the athletics department stationery, banners displayed in public areas and any other forum in which they may appear. Any trophies awarded by the NCAA in men’s basketball, women’s basketball and women’s volleyball shall be returned to the Association.
Finally, to aid in accurately reflecting all institutional and student-athlete vacations, statistics and records in official NCAA publications and archives, the sports information director (or other designee as assigned by the director of athletics) must contact the NCAA media coordination and statistics office and appropriate conference officials to identify the specific student-athletes and contests impacted by the penalties. In addition, the institution must provide the media coordination and statistics office with a written report detailing those discussions. This written report will be maintained in the permanent files of the media coordination and statistics office. The written report must be delivered to the office no later than 14 days following the release of this decision or, if the institution appeals the vacation penalty, at the conclusion of the appeals process. A copy of the written report shall also be delivered to the office of the Committees on Infractions at the same time.