The NCAA Division III Committee on Infractions announced sanctions, effective immediately, against Geneseo and Buffalo State that will keep the schools out of the postseason this season.
Though the sanctions are imposed on the entire athletic program, they primarily affect ice hockey. According to the NCAA, Geneseo and Buffalo State awarded grants almost exclusively to student-athletes, particularly those in men’s and women’s ice hockey.
These schools have been put on two years of probation from Jan. 28, 2010, through Jan. 27, 2012, their Canadian grant programs for incoming students have been terminated, and any team with a student-athlete receiving Canadian grants cannot participate in any postseason play this year. The first two penalties were self-imposed by the institutions and accepted by the NCAA.
Since the hockey seasons already started, Geneseo and Buffalo State’s seasons will end after the regular season contests are completed. Geneseo is currently in a playoff spot.
“They are not eligible for postseason play,” SUNYAC Commissioner Dr. Patrick Damore said of the men’s teams (Buffalo State women compete in the ECAC West and are currently in a playoff spot). “We’re just going to move everyone up. It’s just for this year. Next year, they will be eligible.”
The committee found no indication that anyone in the school’s athletics department or administration intended to circumvent NCAA rules. It was the disproportionate awarding of grants to student-athletes that resulted in more than a minimal competitive advantage to the athletics program.
“The NCAA news release confirms that Buffalo State never sought to circumvent NCAA rules and implemented the Canadian Incentive Grant program for the sole purpose of better serving students throughout the region,” Buffalo State Interim President Dr. Dennis Ponton said. “It is regrettable that, in fall 2009, we had to discontinue a program that was enriching our entire college, but we understand and accept the NCAA’s ruling on this matter.”
“The infraction was an unintended consequence of the Canadian Student Initiative, created in 2001 as part of a SUNY-wide effort to increase the international student population,” Geneseo President Christopher Dahl said. “The NCAA did not deem the Canadian Student Initiative program a violation in and of itself, but rather cited the disproportionate percentage of aid awarded to student-athletes compared to that of non-athletes from 2006 to 2009. Nearly all recipients played ice hockey. It is important to note that the NCAA found the violation unintentional.”
Caught in the middle are the student-athletes affected. They have a choice to either continue playing their sport and forfeit the aid package or quit playing and continue receiving the aid package.
“We are disappointed our students have to make that decision,” Dahl said. “We strongly support the policies of the NCAA. We are intently focused on doing what’s best for our student-athletes. We vigorously defended our student’s interest in front of the NCAA.
“We will continue to have the International aid program, but the Canadian aid program has been suspended and canceled.”
Though many schools, including Geneseo, have an active international recruiting effort complete with scholarships and aid packages, it was specifically the ratio of Canadian athletes versus Canadian non-athletes that caught the attention of the NCAA. The NCAA no longer looked at the overall foreign student population, but just focused on the Canadian population and the proportionality of athletes of all sports and the aid they were receiving.
“Although the Canadian Incentive Grant met all NCAA Division III standards when it was established in 2006, subsequently the NCAA deemed that a disproportionate number of student-athletes versus regular students from Canada took advantage of the program,” Buffalo State athletic director Jerry Boyes said. “We cooperated fully with this investigation and accept the penalties handed down. However, we are deeply disappointed that this situation will have a negative impact on our men’s and women’s ice hockey student-athletes this season. We appreciate and wholeheartedly stand by the NCAA’s acknowledgement that no one in the athletics department or administration ever intended to circumvent NCAA rules.”
Dahl said: “The financial aid bylaw in question — amended in 2005 — requires that institutions compare financial aid packaging for first-year and transfer student-athletes with the aid packaging for all first-year and transfer students. This is a relatively new change, and as such, our situation constitutes a ‘first look’ case for the NCAA.”
Many Division III schools have this sort of aid program but are able to meet the ratio. For example, Potsdam has an approved teacher education program registered with the Ontario Ministry of Education. Thus, they actively recruit Canadian students who are not hockey players who find this program attractive. Therefore, the proportionality of Canadian athletes compared to Canadian non-athletes receiving these grants appeases the NCAA.
“These are the only two schools in the SUNYAC that are being looked at,” Damore said. “They’ve corrected the situation. The NCAA is looking at other schools in the country.”
Sources indicate this is only the tip of the iceberg and will have a major impact on Division III hockey. It is unclear whether any Division I programs that cannot offer scholarships by NCAA rule — other than those whose schools or conferences self impose no scholarships — also will be affected.