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Appeals committee upholds Cal Poly vacation of records penalty

Download the Feb. 2020 California Polytechnic State University Public Appeal Decision

Cal Poly must vacate records for contests in which ineligible student-athletes competed, according to a decision from the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee. 

In the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions’ decision regarding Cal Poly, the panel found the school did not monitor its book scholarship program to ensure the administration of stipends followed NCAA rules.  From the 2012-13 academic year through the 2015 fall quarter, the university provided 265 student-athletes in 18 sport programs impermissible financial aid in the form of $800 in cash stipends which was not equal to the actual cost of the course-related books purchased. In addition to other penalties, the panel prescribed a vacation of records for competition in which student-athletes participated while ineligible.

In its appeal, the university argued the vacation of records penalty is inappropriate, unfair to student-athletes and coaches, and contrary to established case precedent. The university said the Committee on Infractions panel based the penalty on the participation of student-athletes who were not culpable and received negligible benefits. Finally, the university said the student-athletes’ eligibility could have been easily restored had it known its book scholarship program violated NCAA rules. 

In response to the university’s argument, the Committee on Infractions said the panel prescribed the penalty to address the university’s misapplication of book scholarship rules, its failure to withhold ineligible student-athletes from competition and its failure to monitor the administration of its book scholarships.

The Committee on Infractions argued that the penalty is consistent with prior case guidance involving student-athletes who competed while ineligible. It also said the cases the university used to support its arguments were either based upon an outdated penalty structure or factually dissimilar.

The Committee on Infractions also said its internal operating procedures provide guidance on when the likelihood of a penalty being prescribed is increased, and while those circumstances are not required for the committee to prescribe a penalty, this case involved two of the listed circumstances: a large number of violations and a failure to monitor.

In its decision, the Infractions Appeals Committee said it is mindful of the consequences that a vacation of records penalty has on those individuals involved in and impacted by the penalty. However, it emphasized that a vacation of records penalty is designed to hold a member school accountable for its responsibility to understand and follow NCAA rules and address competitive advantages gained by a member school’s failure to withhold ineligible student-athletes from competition.

The Infractions Appeals Committee reiterated that it is within the Committee on Infractions panel’s discretion to determine the penalties based on the specific circumstances of the case. The Infractions Appeals Committee noted in its decision that as a result of the implementation of a new violation and penalty structure in 2012, infractions cases under the old violation and penalty structure may have limited precedential value.  Not only were some of the cases cited by the university decided under the former penalty structure, the cited cases were also factually distinguishable from this case.

After evaluating the university’s argument that the student-athletes’ eligibility could have been restored, the Infractions Appeals Committee said it is unable to base its decision on facts that were not applicable at the time of appeal, or at best a speculative possibility. The Infractions Appeals Committee noted that outcomes of reinstatement processes are not guaranteed, and a university is not free from penalties related to the participation of ineligible student-athletes, based on a speculative assumption that the student-athletes would have been reinstated.

Ultimately, the Infractions Appeals Committee determined that the panel did not abuse its discretion by prescribing the vacation of records penalty and upheld that penalty in this case.

The members of the Infractions Appeals Committee who heard this case were Jonathan Alger, president at James Madison; Ellen M. Ferris, associate commissioner for governance and compliance at the American Athletic Conference; W. Anthony Jenkins, chair of the Division I Infractions Appeals Committee and attorney in private practice; Allison Rich, senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Princeton; and David Shipley, law professor and faculty athletics representative at Georgia.