NCAA rules to vacate 2 years

Thursday, June 19, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ aeisenhauer@semissourian.com Southeast Missouri State University athletic director Don Kaverman answered questions during a news conference regarding NCAA penalties on the basketball program.

Wednesday marked a small victory for the Southeast Missouri State women's basketball program.

But it also brought 44 losses.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions announced its penalties for the program and released the public infractions report Wednesday. The penalties included a vacation of victories for two years (2004-05 and 2005-06), which was a reduction from the committee's intention to wipe out four years of records that would have covered the entire span of B.J. Smith's coaching tenure.

"The major difference," said Josephine Potuto, chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, "is we had a hearing and the university was able to come in and respond and focus on the vacation of records penalty and provide additional information or at least more clarification on the penalty. And the committee listened.

"I assume the university would say the same thing: that it was successful in persuading the committee that at least two of those years it would be inappropriate to assess a vacation penalty."

But that would be only half of what university officials would consider success going into the April 19 hearing in Indianapolis. The committee still penalized the university by taking away wins for the 22-8 season of 2004-05 and the 22-9 OVC championship season of 2005-06, which included the university's first of two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

Southeast president Dr. Kenneth Dobbins said he was concerned about the vacation of records.

"We believe that the self-imposed penalties and our continued corrective actions were sufficient due to the nature of those infractions," Dobbins said. "We also agree with the two years' probation and are pleased there will not be additional sanctions for future postseason events."

No penalties related to the 2006-07 season, when the Redhawks returned to the NCAA tournament with interim coach John Ishee replacing Smith following the former coach's resignation in December 2006. Wednesday's news conference possibly marked the end of a 29-month process from the time Dobbins asked Ohio Valley Conference commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher to review allegations made by a former assistant coach in the previous months. The university had disclosed the violations, which centered around impermissible transportation, lodging and meals for student-athletes and prospective student-athletes during Smith's tenure, in a preliminary report in June 2006. The university received notification in October 2007 that the committee on infractions planned to wipe out the entire four-year run for Smith, which included a 19-11 debut season in 2002-03 and a 16-13 campaign the following year.

The hearing brought a reduction in that penalty and violations were basically detailed versions of information disclosed two years ago, but the report did include some new wrinkles.

The athletic program will be on probation for two years, through June 17, 2010, and both Smith and the university were cited for failure to monitor the summer activities in the women's basketball program.

"The committee finds that the institution lacked institutional control of its athletics program related to these violations and that the former head coach failed to monitor his program," the report said.

Still, it could have been worse.

"The committee decided not to impose the vacation penalty in 2002-03 and 2003-04 because of the relatively limited nature of the violations during those years and because the clearest warning signs regarding the potential for violations ... came in July 2004," the report said, citing an internal memo written by former assistant athletic director for compliance, Alicia Scott. "After that time, there was little justification for failure to heed the warnings."

"We really don't know what testimony really made a difference in their decisions," Dobbins said. "They ask questions to make sure they get all the information before they go into their deliberations."

Southeast Missouri State athletic director Don Kaverman said the university was prepared well for its hearing by Chuck Smrt, director of The Compliance Group, the consulting firm that had assisted Southeast from the start after being hired to run the investigation by the OVC.

"We were able to convince the committee that two years was enough and that four years was too much," Kaverman said. "We were grateful for that."

Smrt and the university were operating on some shifting ground from the time Southeast imposed sanctions on itself and Wednesday's announemcent.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions in June 2007 adopted a policy with seven areas in which it could consider vacation of records as a penalty, and it found Southeast met the criteria in three of those areas: the direct involvement of a coach, the large number of violations and "ineligible competition in a case involving ... a failure to monitor and a lack of institutional control."

Kaverman said previous cases that may have included similar violations didn't always include the vacation of records penalty "because it wasn't in the committee on infractions' toolbox at that time."

Potuto said the penalty can be appropriate because it penalizes those who were directly involved in the violations and not the players who enter the program after.

"In the committee's view," she said, "it really directly rectifies any advantage that was gained."

Smrt said the committee has utilized it more in recent years.

"If you look back six, eight or 10 years, it's been rarely imposed," Smrt said.

Kaverman said discussions with Smrt between the time of the preliminary report and the committee's intention to add penalties never included the thought of vacating victories as a self-sanction.

"I don't think we ever felt that was an appropriate penalty for the violations that occurred in this case," Kaverman said. "Intelligent people can disagree. I think it's up to the individual to make up their own minds if they think that this was an appropriate penalty for what occurred in this case."

Southeast Missouri State is the first OVC champion to receive the penalty, Steinbrecher said. And it will cost the school its titles — the OVC regular season co-championship and the tournament title that carried an NCAA berth in 2005-06.

"We had no precedent within our conference," Steinbrecher said. "If the vacation of records penalty remains, at that time, we would vacate the championships. How we proceed is really consistent with what others in our industry are doing."

If the penalty remains depends on Southeast's reaction. The university has 15 business days — until July 3 — to make a decision whether to enter the NCAA appeals process.

"We'll review it with Chuck and we'll review it with our board to see if we should appeal," Dobbins said.

Reminded that he had said in December that the university would exhaust all appeals to protest the severity of the penalty in relation to the violations, Dobbins said, "I think I just said what we're going to do."

Later Wednesday night, Dobbins said, "It's time to get this over with and move on."

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