NCAA slams UMass: Strips basketball, tennis wins over financial aid to 12 athletes

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus COURTESY PHOTO


Sports Editor
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The University of Massachusetts Amherst will forfeit 46 men’s basketball wins and an Atlantic 10 Conference championship in women’s tennis achieved from 2014 to 2017 after the NCAA Division 1 Committee on Infractions (COI) concluded the university provided impermissible financial aid benefits that exceeded the full cost of attendance to 12 athletes in men’s basketball and women’s tennis.

The report, which was released Friday, said UMass provided more than $9,100 on 13 occasions over a three-year period from 2014 to 2017. The violations reach Level II, according to the NCAA. Of the 12 athletes, 10 were men’s basketball players.

Level II penalties include two years of probation, a $5,000 fine and forfeiture of all games ineligible athletes competed in.

UMass disagreed with the ruling and will appeal the penalty of vacated wins in support of its athletes. The women’s tennis team will vacate 43 wins.

“There are a number of things that I think we feel were an overreach,” UMass Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford said in a virtual press conference. “I think there was an abuse of power with the penalty structure. I think that is what we are likely to use, again, we don’t dispute the facts and I think that’s a really important piece here. We acknowledged all the mistakes, we acknowledged the infractions, but I don’t think any lay person, anyone looking at this from the outside feels like this is a just punishment and that it meets, by proportion, the violation.”

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

“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.”

The NCAA’s report called the circumstances “unique” because they occurred when the athletes moved off-campus after the start of the semester and UMass did not re-adjust their financial aid.

The 12 athletes either received a telecom fee associated with dorm phones after they moved off-campus, or received housing expenses that exceeded full cost of attendance when they moved from more expensive on-campus housing to less expensive off-campus housing during the semester.

Six basketball players and two tennis players received the impermissible telecom fee. The other four — all basketball players — received the impermissible housing benefits. One athlete received both, according to the report.

According to the report, the violations occurred due to a former associate athletics director for compliance’s misunderstanding of the financial aid regulations and a “flawed monitoring process.”

The report noted that UMass properly awarded aid 98% of the time during the three-year time period. It said UMass’ monitoring practices were reasonable. Those practices included real-time review and end-of-year audits. However, on the 13 occasions listed, UMass failed to identify and correct the financial aid errors.

“The University of Massachusetts is committed to maintaining and ensuring the highest standards of compliance in our intercollegiate athletics program,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in a statement. “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.”

UMass learned of the potential violations in the spring of 2017 and began working with the NCAA and outside counsel through the process.

“I think we did everything right in this matter to bring this forward,” Bamford said. “We spent lots of money to do so, we spent a lot of time and a lot of effort and at the end of the day, I believed in the process. We just didn’t receive the outcome that I thought was proportional and that we deserved.”

The review consisted of all 21 sports over a five-year period from 2013-2018.

Bamford said he asked the financial aid staff to review records of all students who received at least 70% in grant aid during that same time period. Of the 5,126 students who received $37 million in financial aid, Bamford said only the $9,100 in overages were detected.

“That’s unique and that’s obviously inadvertent and obviously unintentional,” he said. “I’m disappointed that didn’t carry some weight when they looked at the penalty structure.”

Bamford said he lost some trust with the NCAA’s process of self-reporting violations.

“It’s shaken me and shaken my belief. As a practitioner I’m disappointed,” he said. “I grew up, my dad (Steve) was in this business as an athletic director, now I have the opportunity to lead a department and I’ve always looked favorably upon the NCAA and the enforcement and infractions and all the things that it takes to be a good member in good standing, and this has been hard today because we do so much to protect, provide for our student-athletes and this is something where we really truly feel like we had something taken away and it’s just not fair.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.