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UMass says NCAA’s penalties to men’s basketball, women’s tennis teams don’t match the violations

The UMass campus in Amherst.
The UMass campus in Amherst.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

The University of Massachusetts athletic department has acknowledged overpaying 12 athletes about $9,100 in financial aid from 2014-2017, but disagrees with the NCAA’s decision Friday to strip the school of 59 men’s basketball victories and an Atlantic 10 Conference championship in women’s tennis.

Director of athletics Ryan Bamford said UMass was willing to accept a $5,000 fine and year of probation, but the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions rejected that and instead included vacated wins as part of the penalty. UMass, which was also placed on probation through October 2022, plans to appeal.

“This outcome today, the overreach by the NCAA, are penalties that are not proportionate to the violations,” Bamford said. “Especially the vacation of wins and the vacation of records. It penalizes student-athletes and coaches that to this day don’t know that we had over-rewarded them financially.”

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After a three-year investigation, the NCAA concluded that four UMass athletes — all basketball players — received a higher housing payment after they moved to less-expensive off-campus housing. Eight other athletes — six basketball players and two tennis players — continued to receive a dorm phone stipend after they moved off campus. One athlete received both.

Bamford said the total cost of infractions for the two women’s tennis players was $252.

UMass said it reported the violations in the spring of 2017 after self-investigating possible low-level violations that occurred under former men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg. Over the last three years, Bamford said the NCAA interviewed coaches, student-athletes, and staff members as the two sides tried to negotiate a resolution.

The COI rejected an original agreement between UMass and the NCAA because it did not include vacated results, and then sent the case back to its enforcement division to hold a hearing for more penalties.

“Vacation is intended as an institutional penalty to address unearned competitive or recruiting advantages,” Bamford said. “In this case we did neither. We made unintentional mistakes. We gained no advantage in recruiting, no advantage in competition.”

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According to the NCAA report, a former associate athletics director’s misunderstanding of financial aid rules and administrative error resulted in the violations. The committee did not find a failure to monitor infractions because 98 percent of the time during the period where the overpayments occurred, UMass appropriately distributed financial aid.

Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said the set of penalties was unfortunate for an administrative mistake that could be classified as minor.

“To have a set of student-athletes that had no involvement in a mistake that has been acknowledged and to penalize them by the vacation of contests seems inordinately punitive,” McGlade said. “These 12 student-athletes received an overage that essentially wasn’t tracked but it was attributed to a qualified university expenditure. It’s very disappointing and I think it’s something we need to address as an association.”

Dave Roberts, the COI chief hearings officer and special assistant to the athletic director at Southern California, said previous case precedent based on ineligible participation by athletes led to the penalty.

The COI’s ruling said the athletes participated while they were ineligible and that UMass should have withheld them from competition even though both UMass and the athletes were unaware of the violations at the time.

“We look at a multitude of factors, not just the dollar amount involved,” Roberts said. “The number of students involved. The number of competitions involved. The duration of detection. Many, many factors.”

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According to ESPN, UMass spent $100,000 defending itself to the NCAA.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.