On Thursday, January 19, the NCAA announced findings of a major violation at both Neumann University and SUNY-Morrisville revolving around financial aid grants to foreign student-athletes. These violations are similar to ones found at SUNY-Geneseo and Buffalo State in January 2010, and Potsdam in 2011.
The violations at Neumann involve financial aid awards to student-athletes that were distinguishable from the pattern of similar aid granted to nonathletes from academic years 2007-2008 through 2010-2011. The case was resolved through the NCAA’s summary disposition process, which is a written cooperative alternative to a formal hearing utilized when the NCAA and affected institution agree to all facts involved.
The NCAA noted in the findings that the violations were not intentional, and were a result of the hockey program concentrating its recruiting efforts in Canada to a much more significant degree than the school’s admissions office.
“From Neumann’s point of view, the most important thing about the NCAA finding was that the violation was inadvertent and unintentional,” said Steve Bell, director of public relations at Neumann.
The saga begins in the 2005-06 academic year, when Neumann instituted Canadian International Student Initiative Grants in an effort to attract students from north of the border to the school. The program was reviewed by the NCAA in the next academic year and, on March 28, 2007, the Division III Financial Aid Committee signaled its acceptance of justification provided by Neumann under a Level II review.
“We understood that everything was OK at that time,” said Bell. “It was only later, when the proportion became skewed, that the NCAA found a difficulty.”
Neumann continued awarding grants under the program, increasing the amount given to students in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years. In October 2010, the university discontinued the Canadian International Student Initiative Grant program. Through the course of the program since 2007, 118 awards were granted, with 115 going to men’s and women’s ice hockey players.
On November 22, 2010, the NCAA committee asked Neumann to provide information regarding financial aid data. Then on March 9, 2011, Neumann was informed by the committee that it was in violation of NCAA Bylaw 15.4.1 and an official inquiry was begun by the enforcement staff. Neumann worked closely with the NCAA to provide all requested data and participate in the summary disposition process, finally arriving at the release of Infraction Report No. 367 on January 19, 2012.
The NCAA ruled that the awards became de facto athletic scholarships because they were awarded in a way that was readily distinguishable from the general pattern of financial aid awarded to other students at Neumann.
Several penalties were assessed by the NCAA and agreed to by Neumann:
1. Public reprimand and censure
2. Two year probation starting on January 19, 2012
3. A $10,000 fine
4. Postseason playoff ban
5. Staff education and compliance reporting
The fine was imposed by the Infractions Committee in addition to the other penalties originally proposed by the school.
The postseason playoff ban was the most fully-explained penalty included in the NCAA report. Quoting from the report:
“any of the institution’s athletic teams whose rosters include one or more students receiving Canadian International Student Initiative Grants and whose regular season performance affects playoff eligibility or seeding shall end their seasons with the playing of their last regular season contest and shall not be eligible to participate in any postseason competition, including conference tournaments and NCAA championships.”
Since Neumann discontinued the grant program in October 2010, no current athletes at Neumann have received grants during this academic year. Therefore, the Neumann men’s and women’s hockey teams appear to be fully eligible for league and NCAA playoffs this season.
“Our understanding is that the postseason ban would apply if players were still receiving the grant,” said Bell. “There are no players still receiving the grant. We have read the NCAA explanation very carefully and believe that we are interpreting that correctly, which is that both the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams are eligible for postseason play this year because neither team has on its roster any player still receiving grants.”
That understanding is similar to the situation with the Potsdam lacrosse team, which retained playoff eligibility through the NCAA sanctions.
Stacey Osborne, associate director of public and media relations for the NCAA, confirmed that the Committee on Infractions believes Neumann is eligible for playoffs this season.
The findings also have no effect on the NCAA Championship won by the men’s team in 2009.
Neumann has implemented new guidelines concerning financial awards given to foreign students and developed and implemented educational programs for the staff to ensure compliance going forward.
“We have stopped giving the grants and agree to whatever staff training and education the NCAA suggests,” said Bell.
The ECAC did not return a request to comment for this story.
After a very busy stretch of seven games in 18 days, including five road games, the men’s hockey team has a well-deserved weekend off. The break should help the team regain its footing before a three-week sprint to the finish line.
“We’ve had an extremely busy stretch since Christmas with not only games, but the travel that was involved,” said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. “That wears and tears on the guys. Being on the bus for seven, eight, nine hours a couple times a week really took its toll. This week off will help us tighten things up physically and mentally as we get ready for the stretch run.”
ECAC West Weekly Awards:
Player of the Week: John Clewlow, Sr., Elmira. Clewlow scored four goals last weekend to help the Soaring Eagles to a 1-0-1 record. The senior scored the game-tying goal in a 2-2 tie with nationally-ranked conference rival Utica. Clewlow then scored a hat trick in a 6-2 win over Cortland.
Goaltender of the Week: Evan Smith, So., Utica. Smith led the Pioneers to a 1-0-1 week against two ranked opponents. The sophomore stopped 39 shots in a 2-2 tie against Elmira on Friday, marking the first time Elmira was held without a conference victory (5-0-1) this season. Against No. 7 Amherst on Saturday, Smith posted his first collegiate shutout by stopping 12 shots in a 3-0 win.
Rookie of the Week: It was a bad weekend for freshmen, as the ECAC did not receive any nominations from the schools for Rookie of the Week. That is a first within my recollection.