The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, impermissibly provided 12 student-athletes in men’s basketball and women’s tennis with financial aid that exceeded full cost of attendance, according to a decision released by the Division I Committee on Infractions.
In total, Massachusetts provided more than $9,100 in excess of full cost of attendance on 13 occasions over a three-year period. Four student-athletes received a higher housing rate after they moved to less-expensive off-campus housing, and eight continued to receive a fee associated with dorm phones after they moved to off-campus housing. One student-athlete received both. The additional aid resulted in those student-athletes competing while ineligible.
The committee said the violations occurred as a result of a former associate athletics director’s misunderstanding of financial aid rules and administrative error.
The excessive financial aid rendered the student-athletes ineligible. NCAA rules require member schools to withhold ineligible student-athletes from competition until their eligibility is restored, regardless of the school’s knowledge.
“When an institution makes a mistake, it is accountable for the consequences of that mistake,” the panel said in its decision. “Here, the mistake was providing excessive aid, and the consequence was the requirement to withhold ineligible student-athletes from competition.”
The committee noted that the school’s financial aid distribution and monitoring processes properly awarded aid in 98% of cases during that same time period. As a result, the committee determined that the violations did not demonstrate a failure-to-monitor violation.
“UMass implemented reasonable monitoring practices, including real-time review and end-of-year audits,” the panel said. “On 13 occasions involving unique circumstances, UMass failed to identify and correct financial aid overage payments.”
The committee classified the case as Level II-mitigated for the university. The committee used the Division I membership-approved infractions penalty guidelines to prescribe the following measures:
The university must provide a written report containing the contests impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 14 days of the public release of the decision.
Due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearing for this case was held virtually.
Members of the Committee on Infractions are drawn from the NCAA membership and members of the public. The members of the panel who reviewed this case are Norman Bay, attorney in private practice; Thomas Hill, senior vice president emeritus at Iowa State; Jason Leonard, executive director of athletics compliance at Oklahoma; Vincent Nicastro, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for the Big East Conference; Joseph D. Novak, former head football coach at Northern Illinois; Larry Parkinson, director of enforcement for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and David M. Roberts, chief hearing officer and special assistant to the athletics director at Southern California.
AMHERST, Mass. – Today, the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) released its decision regarding unintentional violations in university financial aid distributions impacting student-athletes from the University of Massachusetts men's basketball and women's tennis programs. The University of Massachusetts strongly disagrees with the ruling and in support of its student-athletes will appeal the Committee's decision to vacate wins.
“As an athletics department we accept that we made administrative mistakes in the distribution of athletic aid through our financial aid process,” said Bamford. “However, we do not believe that the penalties imposed by the NCAA are appropriate, nor proportional to the violations that occurred. These were simply operational errors in our compliance systems that did not functionally detect payments above our cost of attendance. The errors occurred with no intent to gain a competitive or recruiting advantage, or to compromise the collegiate model. 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.”
“The University of Massachusetts is committed to maintaining and ensuring the highest standards of compliance in our intercollegiate athletics program,” said Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “Our athletics leadership acted promptly and appropriately when these administrative errors were discovered. We acknowledge and accept that violations occurred, however we respectfully disagree with the sanctions issued by the NCAA as they do not align with the nature of the infractions.”
The NCAA COI acknowledges in its report that there were 13 unintentional and inadvertent violations in the issuance of financial aid above the cost of attendance. The administrative errors affected 12 student-athletes in total – 10 in men's basketball and two in women's tennis – over a three-year period from 2014 to 2017. The 13 financial aid overages over the three-years totaled just over $9,000. At the time of the infractions, UMass administrators, coaching staff and student-athletes were not aware of the violations.
The NCAA COI decision finds that the involved student-athletes participated while technically ineligible and UMass should have withheld them from competition even though neither UMass nor the athletes themselves were aware of the violations at the time the student-athletes participated in competition. The inadvertent violations provided no recruiting or competitive advantage for either UMass team. The NCAA COI imposed as penalties a two-year probation, a $5,000 fine, vacation of records associated with the ineligible competition, and standard NCAA Regional Rules attendance for UMass staff members.
After initially learning of potential violations in the spring of 2017, UMass was proactive in engaging the NCAA and outside counsel and worked collaboratively with the parties to thoroughly assess athletics compliance efforts and remedial measures at the university. In the interest of transparency and to ensure the Department of Athletics was operating within the expectations of NCAA membership, the review ultimately encompassed compliance and financial aid operations for all 21 sport programs during a five-year period (2013-18). The financial aid infractions discovered during the review began in 2014 under UMass athletic department administration, basketball and tennis coaching staffs who are no longer at the institution.
Since 2017, the University and athletics department has enacted remedial and corrective measures and reviewed relevant policies and protocols for athletics compliance which include:
“This unfortunate error in our operational processes has led to a comprehensive review of our procedures for setting and distributing athletic scholarship aid,” Bamford added. “We have updated our procedures, invested in new compliance software and added a full-time position in student financial services to assist our department in monitoring the financial aid disbursement process.”
The following is a statement from Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade regarding the NCAA's decision Friday on UMass Athletics.
The decision and penalty issued by the Committee on Infractions to vacate contests is overly harsh and a disservice to the student-athletes and coaches at the University. It does not align with the values, mission and goals of the NCAA as an association, and is in direct conflict with the commitment to protect and provide equitable opportunities and treatment of our student-athletes. The adjudication of an institutional administrative mistake of nominal value for only 12 students, in a program that issues financial awards to thousands of student-athletes, lacks the application of reasonable discretion that these student-athletes and coaches deserve.
This case articulated that there was no recruiting advantage, there was no third-party involvement, there was no clandestine activity to retain student-athletes for competition and there was no failure to monitor violation. Thus, the penalty to vacate contests is out of step with the current environment of intercollegiate athletics. The scope and depth of this minor administrative error does not compare with other institutions’ violations that truly jeopardize the collegiate model. I am beyond disappointed and discouraged in our association, and support UMass in their decision to appeal because these student-athletes and coaches do not deserve to bear the brunt of a mistake that was purely administrative in nature of which they had no control or involvement.