The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or “COI” or “panel”) recently issued its findings and found that the University of Alaska Fairbanks (“Alaska Fairbanks” or “institution”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. Being that Alaska Fairbanks offers sports at both the NCAA Division I and NCAA Division II levels, the case consisted of two negotiated resolutions.
Alaska Fairbanks and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that from the 2017-18 through the 2020-21 academic years, the institution improperly certified a total of 42 student-athletes in nine sport programs. The violations fell into two primary categories: amateurism certification and initial academic certification. As a result of the improper certifications, ineligible or uncertified student-athletes practiced past the permissible 45-day period for participation before certification, competed in a total of over 300 contests and received actual and necessary expenses associated with the contests. Two student-athletes also received impermissible financial aid. Additionally, the institution failed to monitor its initial eligibility certification process as it did not have the proper checks and balances, education or training programs in place to identify potential eligibility issues.
Alaska Fairbanks; the head men’s ice hockey coach (“head coach”); and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that from August 2018 through August 2020, the men’s ice hockey coaching staff arranged for 18 incoming prospective student-athletes to stay at a free or reduced cost with current returning student-athletes and representatives of the institution’s athletics interests (representatives) prior to the institution’s dorms opening for the fall semester. Additionally, the coaching staff and head coach did not inform the compliance office of the arranged lodging and there was no established system of reporting or monitoring the housing arrangements for incoming men’s ice hockey prospects. Lastly, during December 2020 through January 2021, an institutional staff member and representative permitted three men’s ice hockey student-athletes to use their automobile at no cost.
The Committee found Alaska Fairbanks committed the following violations of NCAA legislation:
Violations of NCAA Division II Manual Bylaws 126.96.36.199 (2017-18); 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206.3, 220.127.116.11.3.1, 14.01.1, 18.104.22.168, 14.11.1, 14.12.1 and 16.8.1 (2017-18 through 2020-21); 15.1.1 (2018-19 and 2019-20); 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 (2018-19 through 2020-21); 14.11.2 (2019-20); and 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 (2020-21)
The institution and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that between the 2017-18 and 2020-21 academic years, the institution improperly certified 42 student-athletes in nine sports as eligible for competition, resulting in 77 violations of academic and amateurism certification legislation. As a result, 16 student-athletes impermissibly practiced; 24 student-athletes impermissibly practiced, competed and received actual and necessary expenses while ineligible or not certified; and two student-athletes impermissibly practiced, competed and received financial aid and actual and necessary expenses while ineligible or not certified. The institution also failed to withhold 14 of these student-athletes from competition before their eligibility was reinstated. Additionally, the institution failed to include two student-athletes on an eligibility list, have a signed completed eligibility list prior to competition in one sport, and had multiple student-athletes practice and/or compete without completing required eligibility forms.
From the 2018-19 through the 2020-21 academic years, six student-athletes across multiple sports practiced beyond the 45-day period, five of the student-athletes also competed prior to receiving final amateurism and academic certification from the Eligibility Center and one student-athlete practiced and received impermissible financial aid without receiving academic certification. Additionally, one of the student-athletes received impermissible financial aid while ineligible or not certified. NCAA Bylaws 15.1.1 (2018-19) and 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168.3, 22.214.171.124.3.1, 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 (2018-19 through 2020-21).
During the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years, two two-year transfer men’s basketball student-athletes practiced beyond the 45-day period and competed prior to receiving final amateurism certification and without meeting the term-by-term credit-hour requirement for the preceding regular academic term. NCAA Bylaws 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11.3, 18.104.22.168.3.1 and 22.214.171.124 (2018-19 and 2019-20).
From the 2017-18 through the 2020-21 academic years, 26 student-athletes across multiple sports practiced beyond the 45-day period and 15 of the student-athletes competed prior to receiving final amateurism certification. NCAA Bylaws 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52.3 and 184.108.40.206.3.1 (2017-18 through 2020-21).
From the 2017-18 through the 2020-21 academic years, seven student-athletes across multiple sports practiced beyond the 45-day period and four of the student-athletes competed at the institution without meeting the academic requirement, as certified by the Eligibility Center. Additionally, one of the student-athletes received impermissible financial aid while ineligible or not certified. NCAA Bylaws 220.127.116.11 (2017-18), 18.104.22.168 (2017-18 through 2020-21), 22.214.171.124 (2018-19 through 2020-21) and 15.1.1 (2019-20).
During the 2019-20 academic year, the institution did not include two men’s cross-country students on its official eligibility list and allowed the student-athletes to compete. Additionally, the institution did not have a signed men’s basketball eligibility checklist prior to the team’s first exhibition contest November 2, 2019. NCAA Bylaw 14.11.2 (2019-20).
During the 2020-21 academic year, 17 student-athletes across multiple sports practiced and five men’s and women’s skiing and mixed rifle student-athletes practiced and competed prior to completing the required NCAA Student-Athlete Statement and Drug Testing Consent Forms. NCAA Bylaws 126.96.36.199and 188.8.131.52 (2020-21).
Violations of NCAA Division II Manual Constitution 2.8.1 (2017-18 through 2020-21)
It is alleged that during the 2017-18 through 2020-21 academic years the scope and nature of the violations detailed above demonstrate that the institution violated the NCAA principle of rules compliance when it failed to adequately monitor the conduct and administration of its eligibility certification program. Specifically, for multiple years the institution failed to check and/or ensure the amateurism and academic eligibility of incoming student-athletes through the Eligibility Center as detailed above. Further, the institution failed to have a system in place to ensure compliance with NCAA eligibility legislation by accurately completing required NCAA eligibility forms.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 12.11.1 and 16.8.1 (2018-19 and 2019-20) and 13.2.1, 184.108.40.206-(h) and 13.15.1 (2018-19 through 2020-21) (Level II)
The institution and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that during at least August 2018 through August 2020, the men’s ice hockey coaching staff arranged for at least 18 men’s ice hockey prospective student-athletes to reside in the locale of the institution at free or reduced cost with representatives or current student-athletes prior to the institution’s dorms opening. The impermissible inducements/benefits for each of the 18 prospects ranged from $45 to $237 and totaled approximately $2,259. Additionally, during that time the prospects participated in voluntary strength and conditioning workouts. As a result of the violations, eight men’s ice hockey student-athletes competed and received actual and necessary expenses while ineligible.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168-(c) (2020-21) (Level III)
The institution and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that between November 5, 2020, and January 26, 2021, a representative provided an impermissible benefit in the form of the use of their 2010 Toyota Venza automobile for at least 15 days to three men’s ice hockey student-athletes. The approximate value of the impermissible benefit was $101. Specifically, the representative permitted the student-athletes to use their vehicle on an as-needed basis, primarily because the student-athletes’ vehicle was continually breaking down.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaw 22.214.171.124 (2018-19 through 2020-21) (Level II)
The institution, head coach, and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that between August 2018 and August 2020, the head coach is presumed responsible for violations detailed above and did not rebut the presumption of responsibility. Specifically, the head coach did not demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance because of his personal involvement in arranging for the impermissible inducements detailed above. Further, the head coach failed to monitor his staff due to his knowledge of their staff’s arranging the impermissible inducements detailed above and their failure to recognize any red flags, consult compliance or self-detect violations.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Constitution 2.8.1 (2018-19 through 2020-21) (Level II)
The institution and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that findings above demonstrate that the institution violated the NCAA principle of rules compliance when it failed to establish adequate compliance systems, provide adequate rules education or adequately monitor and ensure the men’s ice hockey program adhered to NCAA legislation regarding lodging when prospective student-athletes move to the locale of the institution the summer prior to enrollment.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4
Aggravating Factors for the Institution
19.9.3-(b): A history of Level I, Level II or major violations by 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 or prospect.
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; and
19.9.4-(c): Affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter.
19.9.4-(i): Other facts warranting a lower penalty range.
Aggravating Factors for the Head Coach
19.9.3-(i): One or more violations caused significant ineligibility or other substantial harm to a student-athlete or prospect.
Mitigating Factors for the Head Coach
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-(h): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations.
As a result of the foregoing, the Committee penalized Alaska Fairbanks as follows:
Division I Penalties
1. Public reprimand and censure.
2. Probation: Two years of probation from March 18, 2022, through March 17, 2024.
3. Financial penalty: The institution shall pay a fine of $5,000 to the NCAA.
4. Recruiting restrictions: The institution shall prohibit off-campus recruiting contacts, evaluations and recruiting communications in men’s ice hockey for two weeks during the 2021-22 academic year.
5. Head coach restriction: The head coach violated head coach responsibility legislation when he failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance and meet monitoring expectations the membership has placed on head coaches. Bylaw 126.96.36.199 and the Figure 19-1 penalty guidelines contemplate head coach suspensions to address head coach responsibility violations. Therefore, Alaska Fairbanks or any member institution that employs the head coach in an athletically related position shall suspend the head coach from two percent of the men’s ice hockey regular season contests of the 2021-22 season. This percentage corresponds with one regular season contest. The provisions of this suspension require that the head coach not be present in the facility where the contests are played and have no contact or communication with the men’s ice hockey coaching staff members or student-athletes during the one contest-suspension period. The prohibition includes all coaching activities for the period of time that begins at 12:01 a.m. on the day of the contest and ends at 11:59 p.m. that day. During that period, the head coach may not participate in any coaching activities, including, but not limited to, team travel, practice, video study, recruiting and team meetings. The results of those contests from which the head coach is suspended shall not count toward the head coach’s career coaching record.
6. Vacation of team and individual records: Ineligible participation in the men’s ice hockey program occurred over the 2018-19 through 2019-20 academic years as a result of violations in this case. Therefore, pursuant to Bylaws 19.9.7-(g) and 188.8.131.52 and the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions Internal Operating Procedure 5-15-7, Alaska Fairbanks 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, Alaska Fairbanks’ participation 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 Alaska Fairbanks’s records regarding its men’s ice hockey program, as well as the records of the head coach, 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 his 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 stationary, banners displayed in public areas and any other forum in which they may appear. Any trophies awarded by the NCAA in men’s ice hockey 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 30 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.
Division II Penalties