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COLLEGES

How does the NCAA appeals process work, and does UMass tennis or basketball have a chance at winning?

A T-shirt that reads, "It's Hard, But It Helps" sits on a chair inside the office of Jeff Hescock, UMass's executive director of environmental health and safety.
A T-shirt that reads, "It's Hard, But It Helps" sits on a chair inside the office of Jeff Hescock, UMass's executive director of environmental health and safety.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The University of Massachusetts athletic department feels the punishment does not fit the crime.

The school acknowledged inadvertently overpaying 12 athletes about $9,100 in financial aid from 2014–2017, and was willing to accept a $5,000 fine and year of probation. But the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions earlier this month went even further, stripping the school of 59 men’s basketball victories and an Atlantic 10 Conference championship in women’s tennis.

So what can the school do?

UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said the school is appealing the penalty to the Infractions Appeals Committee.

About the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee

Prior to this year, the committee was composed of five volunteer members, one of whom is from the general public and not affiliated with a college, conference, or professional sports organization, and does not represent coaches or athletes. In January, legislation was approved to add two more members, one of which will be another public member.

What will they determine?

The committee can only overturn the decision if the school demonstrates one or more of the following:

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▪ A factual finding is clearly contrary to the information presented to the Committee on Infractions.

▪ The facts found by the COI do not constitute a violation of the NCAA constitution and bylaws.

▪ There was a procedural error, and but for the error, the COI would not have made the finding or conclusion.

▪ In prescribing a penalty, the COI panel abused its discretion.

How will UMass proceed?

It is this final point that UMass will focus on in filing its appeal.

“We do not believe that the penalties imposed by the NCAA are appropriate, nor proportional to the violations that occurred,” Bamford said in a statement.

The COI acknowledged that the violations were inadvertent and unintentional. Vacating three years of victories for the women’s tennis team, including a conference title, seems particularly harsh, given the total cost of infractions for the two women’s tennis players was $252, and that the school self-reported the violations.

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“The errors occurred with no intent to gain a competitive or recruiting advantage, or to compromise the collegiate model,” said Bamford. “Our administrative and coaching staffs and student-athletes were completely unaware of the mistakes until we audited our records as part of the NCAA review. To vacate wins as a form of penalty — hurting our student-athletes who did nothing wrong — is an overreach by the infractions panel and is deeply disappointing.”

Examples: When victories weren’t vacated

Consider the case of Texas Christian University. In December 2019, the COI punished TCU after the school self-reported 33 athletes in football and basketball being paid for work they didn’t do. Payments totaled about $20,000 over four years, and 22 athletes competed while ineligible, yet the Committee on Infractions declined to vacate victories after TCU successfully contested those penalties, and placed the school on just one year of probation.

In 2015, the COI ruled that over the course of four years, Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne failed to monitor its financial aid and meal processes due to incorrect practices that caused the school to misapply NCAA rules and incorrectly calculate financial aid elements.

Penalties included two years of probation, attendance at NCAA regional rules seminars, and a fine. The impermissible financial aid given to 52 student-athletes totaled more than $42,000, but the school did not have to vacate any victories.

On Oct. 9, the COI disciplined the University of Washington baseball team because former baseball staff members incorrectly thought that the NCAA rule allowing for institutions to pay for parents' travel in football and basketball applied to other sports as well. Coaches arranged for impermissible recruiting benefits in the form of airfare for the parents of 14 prospects, in conjunction with the prospects' official paid visits. The result was three athletes competing and receiving expenses while ineligible in a total of 61 contests.

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While team and individual records were vacated, the school was placed on just one year of probation.

UMass was not as fortunate, and will have its work cut out as it proceeds with an appeal.

Rate of success

The last three years, 17 of 21 appealed penalties have been affirmed by the IAC. In 2018, Ole Miss was successful when the IAC overturned a penalty that required the school to limit football recruits to one unofficial visit per year during its probation period.

However, the committee upheld the prescribed one-year postseason ban in addition to the university’s self-imposed one-year ban. It also upheld the COI’s findings that an assistant coach and an assistant athletics director impermissibly arranged for free merchandise to prospects, their families and their friends, and that the university lacked institutional control.

Timeline

According to the 2019 Division 1 Infractions Year in Review, the average IAC case takes eight months from the time of appeal until a resolution is reached. Here is a timeline of how it’s supposed to work.

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▪ UMass informs the committee of its decision to appeal within 15 days of the ruling.

▪ UMass then has an additional 30 days to file the appeal.

▪ The COI has 30 days to respond to the written appeal.

▪ UMass has 14 days to offer a rebuttal.

▪ The NCAA enforcement staff will submit materials within 10 days after the rebuttal.

▪ UMass gets 10 days to respond to the enforcement staff.

▪ Oral arguments are scheduled and held in the next 1-2 months.

▪ The IAC releases its report 6-8 weeks later.


Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.