The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee”) recently issued its findings and found that Texas A&M International University (“TAMIU”) committed major violations of NCAA legislation. The violations in this case occurred from April 2008 through April 2009 and involved academic fraud committed by six student-athletes. From 2002-09, TAMIU offered a University of Wisconsin College-Level Spanish Placement exam (“Spanish Exam”) that allowed students achieving a certain score to satisfy their foreign language credit requirements. All six of the student-athletes took the test and used an “answer key” to obtain a passing grade. In the case of student-athletes 5 and 6, TAMIU used their scores on the exam to certify their athletics eligibility. 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.
The Committee found that TAMIU committed the following violations of NCAA legislation:
1. Unethical Conduct and Participation while Ineligible in violation of NCAA Bylaws 10.1-(b), 14.1.1, 14.1.10, 14.4.1, 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52.1
a. From April 2008 through April 2009, student-athletes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 violated the principles of ethical conduct when they knowingly engaged in academic fraud. In addition, TAMIU violated NCAA progress-toward-degree legislation related to the certification of eligibility for student-athletes 5 and 6, who represented the institution in intercollegiate athletics competition at a time when they were ineligible.
b. The Spanish Exam was administered in a campus testing center and was given in two sections, language usage and reading comprehension. Students who successfully passed the Spanish Exam received four letter grades in four institutional Spanish courses and twelve hours of academic credit thereby meeting their institutional foreign language requirement.
c. Between April 2008 and April 2009, student-athletes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 used an “answer key” to pass the Spanish Exam and therefore received twelve hours of academic credit. Apparently, the academic fraud and use of the “answer key” began with student-athlete 4 and was ultimately passed to the remaining student-athletes at issue. The “answer key” was provided to the student-athletes via text message.
d. Student-athletes 5 and 6 were marginal students and were able to receive high grades on the Spanish Exam without prior exposure to Spanish as a foreign language. The athletics administration was aware that these student-athletes passed the Spanish Exam with high scores, but did not question the results. Ultimately, student-athletes 5 and 6 were improperly certified and competed in athletics competition.
2. Failure to Monitor by TAMIU in violation of NCAA Constitution 2.8.1
a. TAMIU’s certification team failed to monitor certain aspects of its certification process and determine the validity of the information on which the certification of the eligibility of student-athletes 5 and 6 was based.
b. In certifying student-athletes 5 and 6, the Committee noted that there were multiple factor that should have caused TAMIU to question their eligibility including: a) both student-athletes were poor students who failed to meet progress-toward-degree rules after the 2008 spring semester; b) both were advised to go to summer school to ensure their continued NCAA eligibility; c) both were unable to rectify their eligibility status through their summer courses; d) during the 2008 fall semester, both student-athletes took the Spanish Exam as a last resort to obtain eligibility; e) both had minimal, if any, preparation for the Spanish Exam; f) both had minimal, if any, Spanish language education; and g) both are not from Spanish-speaking cultures.
c. TAMIU’s athletics academic coordinator made student-athlete 5 aware of the Spanish Exam, and, she and the former head coach and the former compliance director were well aware that student-athlete 5 took the Spanish Exam and received such high grades.
d. The former head volleyball coach reported her doubts to the former athletics director and former compliance director about student-athlete 5 being able to receive high grades on the Spanish Exam. An assistant coach asked student-athlete 5 to say “I got four A’s” in Spanish and the student-athlete was unable to do so. No follow-up or investigation was undertaken.
e. The former head basketball coach encouraged student-athlete 6 to take the Spanish Exam despite his unfamiliarity with the language and lack of preparation. Although student-athlete 6 expressed doubts regarding his ability to pass the exam, he was enrolled the following day. Further, despite his poor academic record, his lack of preparation for the test, and his own stated concerns, he was able to pass the Spanish Exam with four grades of “A.” No one questioned the legitimacy of the test results.
3. Failure to Monitor by Former Head Coach in violation of NCAA Constitution 2.8.1
a. The former head coach failed to a) sufficiently review all of the information available to him before TAMIU certified as eligible student-athletes 5 and 6 and b) detect the fact that student-athletes 5 and 6 committed academic fraud on the Spanish Exam when information regarding their inability to pass the exam was available.
b. The former head coach did not heed multiple warning signs that the results attained by student-athletes 5 and 6 on the Spanish Exam were suspect. He was aware of their status as marginal students and they were ineligible for competition as of fall 2008. He also knew the student-athletes took the exam and scored high grades, but never questioned their ability to score such high grades.
c. The former head coach suggested that student-athlete 6 take the Spanish Exam in a last ditch attempt to gain eligibility and informed him to “learn the tricks of the trade.” He also recommended that student-athlete 6 talk to student-athlete 1 who already took the Spanish Exam and passed.
As a result of the aforementioned violations, the Committee penalized TAMIU as follows: