Fans of Alaska Nanooks athletics got the equivalent of a body-check into the boards by the National Collegiate Athletic Association on Wednesday. The governing body for college sports handed the UAF athletics department a host of severe sanctions, including the loss of scholarships, a $30,000 fine, bans on postseason play this year for hockey, swimming and men’s and women’s basketball, as well as the vacating of all basketball and hockey wins in which ineligible athletes played between 2007-2008 and 2011-2012.
Remember the Nanooks wins against the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves in the Governor’s Cup in 2010, 2011 and 2012 that started the streak now five years long? Do your best to forget them, because — officially, at least — they never took place. Remember the hockey team’s first-ever NCAA tournament berth in 2010? That’s gone, too.
According to the NCAA and UAF officials, the sanctions stem from widespread issues in academic advising in which student athletes weren’t informed about NCAA academic requirements and were improperly certified to compete. Advisers were reportedly untrained on differences between UAF academic requirements and those for NCAA athletes. Also, an NCAA release states, UAF didn’t take appropriate action to correct the problem despite internal warnings that its certification system might be deficient.
Clearly, UAF and its staff made serious mistakes both in training academic advisers for athletes and in not acting immediately to fix potential issues when flags were raised. The university, however, did self-report the violations, enacted self-imposed sanctions prior to the NCAA’s and says it has taken appropriate action to reform the advising process to prevent future issues of the same nature. It makes sense the school should face strong sanctions for its missteps.
What doesn’t make sense, however, is for the weight of those sanctions to be so out of proportion to the offenses committed. The sanctions leveled against UAF — vacating records for a multi-year period and the loss of a handful of scholarships, among other things — is strikingly reminiscent of those that hit the University of Minnesota’s basketball team over an academic cheating scandal that took place over five years in the late 1990s. In that instance, a counseling manager for the team had completed more than 400 homework assignments for team members to ensure their eligibility, and instructors were coerced into changing deadlines and grades for team members. The news broke one day before the start of the NCAA basketball tournament in 1999. The university didn’t self-report, and the offenses committed by their staff and athletes were both willful and egregious.
At UAF, the problems were self-reported, self-sanctioning already had taken place and reforms had been made to ensure future compliance. The NCAA ignored these good-faith attempts to rectify the situation and slapped the university’s programs with the metaphorical equivalent of a game disqualification where a two-minute minor penalty would have been appropriate.
The damage inflicted by the disqualification of hockey, basketball and swimming squads from the postseason this year won’t be borne by the advisers who erred in improperly certifying athletes for competition, the UAF staff members who were supposed to train them on NCAA practices, or the college’s then-athletics director — himself a former compliance officer — who oversaw the programs at the time. That damage will be done to student athletes at UAF who had no part in the affair, and who are bearing the punishment for the missteps of others.
UAF’s athletics violations were serious, and the vacating of wins in which ineligible students took part makes sense. The $30,000 fine to UAF makes sense. The mandatory changes to advising to ensure future compliance make sense. The school’s probation through 2017 makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense are the outsized additional penalties impacting current student athletes who had nothing to do with past issues. Put simply, the punishment doesn’t fit the offense.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,