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NCAA denies Cal Poly’s appeal of misused book stipends

Posted: 9:17 AM, Feb 06, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-07 01:21:36-05
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Sanctions placed on Cal Poly over misusing book stipends are being upheld.

Cal Poly had filed an appeal with the NCAA, which found in April of 2019 that the college had given 256 student athletes an $800 book stipend. That appeal has now been denied.

According to a report from the NCAA, 72 of those student-athletes used the leftover money to pay for unrelated items such as food, rent, utilities, and car repairs.

The university says it self-reported the mistake, which it describes as a "relatively minor accounting error," to the NCAA in August of 2017 after realizing they overpaid some student-athletes for their textbooks.

The time period in question was from the 2012/2013 school year to the fall of 2015.

While the NCAA said it did not believe the violation was intentional, Cal Poly Athletics was penalized with two years probation, a $5,000 fine and a vacation of records. The decision does not impact current student-athletes.

No word on other teams affected by the NCAA’s decision.

Cal Poly released the following statement Thursday morning following news of the denial being appealed:

We are deeply disappointed by the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee's decision to vacate the hard-earned individual records of some of Cal Poly’s former student-athletes over a relatively minor accounting error. In our view, the NCAA has sidestepped its responsibility to fairness and sensible treatment of the very student-athletes the association is supposed to protect.

It is important to note that Cal Poly discovered the accounting error — which amounted to over-awarding text books to 30 student athletes an average of $175 — and promptly self-reported the error to the NCAA. The university accepted the NCAA’s initial sanctions, with the glaring exception of the NCAA's decision to force Cal Poly to vacate the records of, and thereby unfairly punish, innocent individual student-athletes who played no part in committing the accounting error and gained no competitive advantage from it.

Throughout the process, the NCAA has repeatedly chosen to ignore prior cases that have facts nearly identical to those that occurred at Cal Poly. An example of this involved the University of Nebraska, which included more money in over-awarded text books ($27,869) and involved a greater number of student-athletes. In that case, the NCAA did not require Nebraska to vacate individual student-athlete records. Given this clear precedent, we find it incomprehensible that the NCAA is forcing Cal Poly to vacate the records of completely innocent student-athletes. Furthermore, it is both confusing and disturbing that the NCAA has chosen to compare Cal Poly's minor text book violation to shocking cases of impropriety. The NCAA actually compared Cal Poly's text book error to cases at other universities that involved athletic staff members securing prostitutes for recruits, writing papers for student-athletes, lying to investigators, and intentional acts designed to gain a competitive advantage. Nothing like that has occurred at Cal Poly.

For the NCAA to go outside of relevant case precedent and require innocent student-athletes to vacate their hard-earned wins over a minor accounting error is an embarrassment to our association and should concern all of our Division I peers. In our opinion, the NCAA national office has demonstrated in this case, and in several other recent cases, that they have lost the ability to appropriately adjudicate the minor cases self-reported to them. This is in addition to the NCAA’s inability to investigate and prosecute serious and significant cases that involve actual acts of impropriety and cheating.

In addition, the message the NCAA sends to other institutions through this decision could have a chilling effect on future enforcement processes as it relates to institutions self-reporting and whether they should cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff. At Cal Poly, we believe we owe it to our 550 student-athletes and our university to uphold honor and integrity in everything we do, and we believe in self-reporting any and all issues as they arise. The question is whether today’s action by the NCAA encourages or discourages a culture of compliance and integrity throughout the membership nationally.

Cal Poly is grateful to everyone who has supported the university and our student-athletes throughout this process and during the more than four years it took the NCAA to reach this troubling conclusion, including the 295 days since the NCAA's Committee on Infractions handed down its initial ruling. After going through this procedure, we will advocate for meaningful reform in the NCAA enforcement process. At Cal Poly we are unwavering in our continued commitment as written in The Mustang Way: Integrity and character shall guide all our decisions and actions.