After deep NCAA sanctions, Alaska ‘feels like it let down its current students’

Alaska must vacate two Governor’s Cup wins over Alaska-Anchorage because of NCAA violations (photo: Sam Wasson).

The NCAA imposed penalties and sanctions on the Alaska athletic department on Wednesday as a result of a series of infractions first discovered by the Fairbanks school during the 2011-12 academic year.

The infractions impacted the men’s ice hockey program as well as eight of the school’s nine Division II sports from 2007 through 2011.

The NCAA found that six hockey players competed in games during the four-year span despite being academically ineligible. The athletes either had not declared a major or had not completed sufficient credits toward their degree program.

The NCAA further found that four athletes were ineligible because they enrolled in a pre-major program instead of a regularly enrolled degree program. These infractions started in 2008 and continued through 2012. (Read the full NCAA documentation here.)

The ruling summed that “all hockey contests from 2007 to 2011 included competition by ineligible student-athletes and more than 60 percent of the contests in 2011-2012 included competition by ineligible student-athletes.”

“These infractions were the result of university errors and were not due to any wrongdoing by student-athletes,” Alaska-Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers said at a news conference Wednesday. “Our student-athletes are high academic achievers. They have integrity in their sport. I’m proud of our student-athletes.”

The infractions came to light as a result of the university misunderstanding an NCAA policy in 2011, school officials said.

The school self-reported the infractions to the governing body and imposed new methodology by which they would remain compliant. They also self-imposed sanctions, including scholarship reductions.

While hockey competes at the Division I level in the WCHA, the remainder of the school’s sports compete in the Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

“These infractions are the university’s responsibility,” Rogers said. “They are old news. We discovered and reported them first in 2011. It took three and a half years to conclude the NCAA process. It was not intentional. It was self-reported. There are new procedures [already in place]. This is all well-documented, and we took responsibility.”

“The penalties range from the university to the individual sports,” said athletic director Gary Gray, “and they include university sanctions that were already self-imposed.”

The sanctions include a three-year probation period, during which Alaska needs to devise a program designed to educate athletes about eligibility and requirements. The school already fulfilled that request, having created an athletics academic advisor position before the NCAA handed down its sanctions.

“[The program] has been in place for some time,” said Gray. “We will continue to educate everyone, and we have a great process in place. We have monthly meetings with the registrar’s office and advisers, and I would hold [our process] up as a model.”

Per the university’s athletic website, that advisor position is filled by Andrea Schmidt, who is responsible for “overseeing the academic advising of Nanook student-athletes, including major and minor exploration, career goals, course registration, compliance, and eligibility related to Progress-Toward-Degree requirements.”

As a result of the findings, the hockey team lost one scholarship per year for three years (down from 18 scholarships to 17). It did receive credit for two years of self-imposed sanctions leading up to the governing body’s decision, meaning that punishment will last only one year.

The team also must vacate all wins, points and individual statistics for games during the impacted period.

That means the Nanooks’ 2010 appearance in the NCAA tournament will be wiped away, as well as two Governor’s Cup wins over Alaska-Anchorage. Coach Dallas Ferguson, who had 103 wins after last weekend and was within two wins of the all-time program record, instead lost 63 victories.

Ferguson could not be reached for comment.

The team also is ineligible for postseason play for this season. While it can win the WCHA’s regular season championship, the NCAA sanctions being honored by the league means the Nanooks will be unable to play beyond the regular season.

If the Nanooks finish in one of the WCHA’s eight playoff-qualifying positions in the standings, the teams below them will move up a spot so the ninth-place team is the last team to make the postseason. If the Nanooks finish in the top four, the fifth-place team will gain a home series where it ordinarily would be on the road.

All of Alaska’s regular season games count toward the league standings and in Ratings Percentage Index and PairWise Rankings calculations.

The WCHA affirmed its support for Alaska while also affirming the NCAA decision.

“[The league] has to be prepared for anything that might come down the line,” said Matt Hodson, the WCHA’s assistant commissioner for public relations. “That includes anything that’s celebratory and those unfortunate times when things aren’t so celebratory. We were alerted [Wednesday] as to the NCAA’s decision, and we’re going to respect that decision.”

The next step for the Nanooks is to identify the records, games, statistics and awards that will need to be vacated for the sports impacted by the 40 student-athletes (across nine sports) who were declared ineligible.

They will have 45 days to identify those records and report back to the NCAA, something that will fall under the umbrella of the new positions and processes created by the institution.

“Both the chancellor and the athletic director are proud of the new model in place,” said Drew Desrosiers, Alaska’s assistant AD for athletic communications. “The university has already completed some of the steps required by the NCAA, and there are monthly meetings already in place to ensure this never happens again. They see the current model as something that can be used for other institutions.

“That said, it doesn’t fix the past,” Desrosiers continued. “The school feels like it let down its current students. It takes full responsibility for what happened and what is happening. But we’re going to continue to grow, and while it’s unfortunate, we’ve taken strides toward some great progress.”

The Nanooks return to the ice this weekend at home against Bowling Green.