The NCAA didn’t mince words in a statement it made in November after Oklahoma State University officials, upset that a decision to sanction the basketball program after an NCAA investigation uncovered violations was upheld, effectively outed the members of the NCAA appeals committee that made the decision.
The NCAA suggested that “comments by Oklahoma State personnel … resulted in NCAA volunteer committee members and staff receiving threatening and offensive messages after being identified by name. This is unacceptable.
“Oklahoma State personnel encouraged individuals to circumvent the NCAA member-created process that every school agrees to participate in as part of their responsibility to each other. Further, there is a troubling trend of misstating facts about the infractions process by schools that disagree with the infractions outcomes. Each member has the ability to seek change to the Division I infractions process, and there is a review group underway looking at how to improve the process.
“This is also a clear example of the work that needs to be done to address issues and behaviors like this moving forward with the new NCAA Constitution and Division I Transformation process. We know that an adverse decision can be emotional, but personal attacks against individuals simply carrying out their responsibilities are inappropriate, unethical and potentially dangerous.”
The Decision that Led to the ‘Unacceptable’ Behavior
OSU’s reaction was fueled by the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee’s decision confirming the level of the violation that occurred in the Oklahoma State men’s basketball program when a former associate head coach violated NCAA ethical conduct rules.
Among other penalties upheld by the committee, the men’s basketball program must serve a one-year postseason ban.
In the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions decision regarding Oklahoma State, the infractions panel found the former associate head coach accepted cash bribes in exchange for arranging meetings for financial advisors with a student-athlete and his family. The former associate head coach also knowingly made direct cash payments to a student-athlete.
The infractions panel found that the violation represented severe breaches of conduct under NCAA rules, resulting in a Level I-standard case for the school and Level I-aggravated case for the former associate head coach.
In its appeal, the school argued that the infractions panel erroneously classified Oklahoma State’s case at the same level as the former associate head coach, stating that the coach’s personal and unethical conduct did not provide competitive advantages or benefits to the school.
The infractions panel argued in its response that holding the school responsible at the same level was consistent with legislated NCAA violation structures. Specifically, the panel noted that a member school is responsible for its staff members, and when a staff member commits a violation while employed by the school, both the individual and the school are responsible for the violation.
In its decision, the appeals committee agreed with the infractions panel, noting that NCAA members have established that control and responsibility for conduct in college sports rests with a school. Additionally, the appeals committee stated that assessment of level is tied to the conduct that resulted in the violation, and not the specific circumstances of the parties. As a result, the appeals committee upheld the infractions panel’s finding that Oklahoma State’s case was Level I.
Additionally, Oklahoma State argued that the infractions panel assigned too much weight to aggravating factors and too little weight to mitigating factors when determining the classification of the case for the school. Therefore, Oklahoma State appealed several penalties in this case — including probation, a postseason ban, scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions — and argued that the infractions panel abused its discretion.
In its response, the infractions panel argued that it appropriately exercised its discretion when it considered and weighed aggravating and mitigating factors. It specifically stated that the application of the aggravating factors — including a history of major violations at the school and that persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded wrongful conduct — was “straightforward and unremarkable.”
The appeals committee concluded that Oklahoma State’s disagreement with the weighing of the aggravating and mitigating factors did not demonstrate an abuse of discretion. Though the appeals committee acknowledged that the infractions panel provided little or no analysis of how the mitigating and aggravating factors were weighed in its initial decision, the appeals committee stated that a disagreement with the weighing of the factors is “not a sufficient demonstration to warrant a determination that the panel abused its discretion, and this committee may not substitute its judgment for that of the panel.”
Because the appeals committee determined the infractions panel had not abused its discretion in the determination of the level of this case or in the weighing of the aggravating and mitigating factors, the appealed penalties were upheld. The members of the Infractions Appeals Committee who heard this case were Jonathan Alger, president at James Madison; Ellen M. Ferris, senior associate commissioner for governance and compliance at the American Athletic Conference; W. Anthony Jenkins, acting committee 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, a law professor and faculty athletics representative at Georgia.