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Remarks by Robert E. Mulcahy III and Statement by Dr. Richard L. McCormick
  • Posted on June 17, 2003 12:00:00 AM
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  • Bob Mulcahy: Remarks regarding eligibility case

    Today President McCormick and I are here to discuss a very serious matter: a major violation of NCAA eligibility rules by Rutgers. As you know, the NCAA announced today that the university was involved in a major infractions case involving eligibility violations that occurred prior to the 2001-2002 academic year. The case has been managed by this department and this university professionally and appropriately in keeping with our obligation as a member of the NCAA. The case was handled through the NCAA’s summary disposition process, a cooperative procedure that is used when the NCAA enforcement staff and the involved member institution agree on the facts of an institution’s case and those facts constitute a major violation of NCAA rules. This process permits the case to be handled via paper and does not require an in-person hearing with the NCAA Committee on Infractions. I will provide a summary of the case along with corrective actions taken by the university and penalties self-imposed by the university and agreed to by the Committee on Infractions.

    Today you will hear me refer to two documents: the university’s report to the NCAA, filed in April 2002, and the joint Rutgers and NCAA summary disposition report, filed in January 2003. These two documents along with the NCAA public report, the NCAA press release, the university’s press release, my remarks and President McCormick’s statement are available in the adjacent media room.

    By way of history: in August 1998, shortly after I began my tenure as athletic director, the university was fully certified in accordance with the NCAA’s athletics certification program. This is a formal process of self-review and peer review that institutions must undergo every 10 years. As a result of this affirmative certification, I believed that the athletic department was meeting its obligations from the standpoint of NCAA rules and regulations. This certification corroborated information I received in a series of meetings in the spring of 1998 during the transition into my role as athletic director.

    In addition to the NCAA’s athletics certification program, every three years, each NCAA institution is required to undertake a review of its compliance program. In the summer of 2000, the athletic department hired a consultant to perform this obligatory review. The review was scheduled for September 2000 in order to meet our three year time frame. Such compliance reviews must focus on the total compliance program. However, they may also focus on a specific area, or areas, if necessary. Due to some concern expressed within our department about the university’s eligibility certification system, the review in September 2000 included a focus in this area. The purpose of hiring a consultant to conduct this review was to ensure that the review was unbiased and independent.

    In reviewing our compliance program, the consultant conducted interviews with university staff members regarding the department’s compliance function as well as spot-checked records related to recruiting, practice and competition, financial aid and student-athlete eligibility. In the review of eligibility records, it was found that a few individual student-athletes were, at the time, participating but did not satisfy the NCAA academic-eligibility standards. The consultant reported to the university that in these cases, there were issues related to the proper application of NCAA rules. You may recall some of these cases because they were publicized at the time. The university is obligated to withhold student-athletes from competition and/or practice when they do not meet the proper academic eligibility standards. When the university determined that ineligible student-athletes were competing or practicing, the university declared these individuals ineligible and sought reinstatement of their eligibility.

    In September 2000, when it became apparent that we would be submitting multiple cases to the NCAA reinstatement staff, the university also contacted the NCAA enforcement staff to discuss the situation. We knew this was the right course of action because such reinstatement cases are automatically reviewed by the NCAA enforcement staff. This was an important initial step for us to take because it allowed us to acknowledge to the NCAA from the start that we might be facing a problem that was larger than a few isolated reinstatement cases.

    The university received a final copy of the consultant’s report in November 2000. The report recommended that further review of the eligibility certification system was necessary. We did not know the magnitude of our problem at the time, but we knew that further review was needed. I contacted the university’s legal counsel to discuss how to proceed with the situation. We determined that we needed to move quickly to address the eligibility matters. We advised then-President Lawrence of the seriousness of the findings. He authorized university counsel to hire outside counsel to conduct a thorough audit of the university’s NCAA eligibility-certification system, to evaluate individual student-athlete eligibility calculations, and to review any other issues involving possible NCAA rules violations.

    We then consulted with NCAA vice-president for enforcement David Price and it was determined that the review of the eligibility certification system should begin with an examination of the 2000-2001 academic year’s student-athletes, who were then practicing and competing. This would permit the university to immediately identify any student-athletes who were inadvertently participating while ineligible. The evaluation began with a review of records for student-athletes as follows: first, sports that were involved in competition at the time, then football, spring sports and fall sports.

    After a few weeks of examining records, it was found that eligibility certification mistakes had been made with other student-athletes. Accordingly, and again in consultation with NCAA vice-president for enforcement David Price, it was decided that once the 2000-2001 student-athletes’ records had been evaluated, the records of student-athletes who had completed their participation in the program during the three previous years would be evaluated as well. This is a typical time frame for a case such as this. In total, the academic records of approximately 2,000 student-athletes were reviewed to determine whether proper eligibility decisions had been made.

    Of those records, 842 were of student-athletes who had been certified as eligible to compete for the 2000-2001 academic year. In total, 40 student-athletes of the 842 had been erroneously certified and had either practiced or competed while ineligible. The violations involved initial eligibility, continuing eligibility and transfer eligibility rules. In some cases, individuals were ineligible under more than one rule. The violations in the student-athletes’ cases ranged from participation prior to initial eligibility certification, to failing to designate a degree program at the proper time, to failing to complete the required number of degree credits prior to competition in a particular year, to mistakes in certifying student-athletes’ transfer eligibility. Where appropriate, the university submitted requests to the NCAA for reinstatement of eligibility. The majority of these requests resulted in student-athletes being reinstated after being withheld from the same number of contests in which they participated while ineligible. In some cases, where the mistakes made were more technical in nature, the number of contests missed was reduced as a result of mitigating circumstances.

    The results of the review of records of student-athletes who were on rosters between 1997-1998 and 1999-2000 indicated similar patterns of erroneous eligibility-certification decisions and flaws in the process. It was concluded that the patterns indicated consistent misapplications of NCAA satisfactory-progress rules which resulted in erroneous eligibility-certification decisions throughout the years reviewed.

    As outside counsel reviewed student-athlete eligibility-certification decisions, they also investigated the situation to determine whether the errors that occurred were errors of commission or errors of omission: in plain terms, whether the people involved in the process had prior knowledge of the situation or not. In doing so, they conducted interviews with all individuals involved in the eligibility certification process.

    Their findings, which are detailed in the university’s report, were that the violations involved the improper certification of eligibility based on misapplication or misunderstanding of the rules by individuals involved in the certification process. There was no intentional foul play. The errors that occurred were errors of omission. There was no academic fraud; there was no willful miscertification of student-athletes for personal or competitive gain. The violations were randomly dispersed and occurred in 15 sports. Our coaches were not at fault, our student-athletes were not at fault. Outside counsel found that the errors occurred because the eligibility certification system that was in place for almost two decades was not adequate to handle the complexities of the NCAA rules, which had changed since the system had initially been implemented, along with the complexities of the academic programs at this university. Further, those involved in the process did not undergo sufficient rules education.

    In a certain sense, it was a relief to know that these problems did not arise from intentional wrong doing. At the same time, serious mistakes had been made and we needed to take corrective actions. We knew we needed to significantly increase efforts to educate all involved regarding NCAA rules. Between our current staff and outside counsel, we did this. We continue to provide rules education on a monthly basis. We send all of our compliance and academic support staff members as well as our director of student-athlete certification to annual NCAA rules seminars. We meet with every team at least twice per year to review NCAA rules. Staff and student-athletes sign various acknowledgements of NCAA regulations on an annual basis.

    Early in the process, when it became apparent that we would need to overhaul our system for certifying eligibility, I asked outside counsel to make suggestions regarding a new eligibility certification system, taking into consideration the complexities that Rutgers academic requirements posed. They did this. We implemented a new eligibility certification system beginning with the 2001-2002 academic year. The system involves athletics, academic support, the registrar’s office and representatives of the university’s academic community. It involves the people who regularly make decisions regarding academic status at the university. This is vital to the proper functioning of the system. Student-athlete academic eligibility decisions must be made on this basis. We have a certification team that meets to discuss every student-athlete’s eligibility. This certification team includes the director of student-athlete certification along with representatives from the office of compliance and the academic support staff. Prior to any practice or competition, each head coach receives a list of all individuals included on his or her active roster together with individual eligibility decisions. The coaches must sign off on these lists, and all subsequent lists when changes in an individual’s eligibility status occurs. Coaches must abide by these eligibility decisions.

    As would be expected of an institution in a case involving these types and numbers of violations, we took corrective and remedial actions to avoid the recurrence of the type of NCAA rule violations identified by the university. Some I have already mentioned: implementation of the new eligibility certification system and continuous rules education.

    Also, we made staff changes. I have already mentioned the director of student-athlete certification. This is a position created by the university in response to this situation. The position is part of the registrar’s office and was filled in July 2001. The focus of this position is to ultimately make a determination of academic eligibility for each student-athlete. As I stated previously, these decisions are not made in a vacuum; they involve the university’s academic community in concert with the athletics department. But, this position pulls the information together for a final evaluation and determination. Creation of this position has been a tremendous asset. The person in this position is a conduit to other departments on campus for our staff and for the academic support staff.

    The university reorganized the academic support staff, which included hiring a new director and taking its structure outside the athletics department, a trend that has become common-place at colleges and universities across the country. That staff now reports to the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs. This gives the staff greater flexibility and opportunity in providing services to our student-athletes.

    We reorganized the athletic compliance staff. We increased that office’s staff to three full-time professionals. Dedicating more resources in this area has vastly improved our efforts to ensure we are in compliance with NCAA rules.

    The university began preparation of its report to the NCAA enforcement staff in the summer of 2001. Aside from detailing the findings of the investigation, the university had to conclude that the violations were either secondary or major in nature. It is important to note that when taken individually, it is likely that each individual violation would have been secondary in nature. However, when taken in total, the university really had no choice but to conclude that the situation represented a major violation of NCAA rules.

    Once this determination was made, the university had to self-impose penalties to properly address the violations that occurred. With any major infractions case, NCAA bylaws set forth a list of penalties that must be considered by the institution and the Committee on Infractions. We studied these penalties in order to determine the appropriate sanctions to impose to demonstrate the seriousness of our response to the violations and to take action rather than waiting for the NCAA to do so. Self-imposing penalties is important in any case, secondary or major. In a case like this one, it is especially important so that the institution can demonstrate to the Committee on Infractions that it has taken its situation seriously and that it has taken appropriate measures.

    We determined that the most appropriate penalties were: a two-year period of probation, a reduction in scholarships by a total of 20, and institutional recertification.

    The two year period of probation began with the submission of our self-report on April 3, 2002. Thus, at the current time, we have approximately nine and a half months remaining in our probationary period. Our probationary status requires that the university provide a report to the NCAA at the end of each probationary year detailing its compliance efforts.

    The self-imposed reductions in scholarships will be completed by the 2004-2005 academic year. The scholarship reductions were taken as follows:
    Men's soccer 4 over a three-year period
    Men’s lacrosse and Football 4 each over a two year period
    Men's golf and baseball 2 each over a two year period
    Field hockey, softball, women’s tennis and men’s track – 1 each

    When scholarship reductions are imposed, generally, they are not imposed from the total number of scholarships permitted by the NCAA in a particular sport. They are taken from the average number of scholarships actually provided by the institution to a particular sport over a four year period. Our four year average was taken from academic years 1998-1999 through 2001-2002.

    On April 3, 2002, once this process of determining appropriate penalties and compiling our report was completed, we turned the report over to the NCAA enforcement staff. At that point, it was the staff’s job to review the report, determine if the information and findings were credible and determine whether they agreed with us on the violations reported, which they did. There were also a few potential violations we were required to investigate that were included in our report. It was determined that these were not violations.

    In addition to the violations we reported, the enforcement staff found that the university was in violation of the NCAA’s principle of institutional control. The staff found, and we eventually agreed, that during the prior athletics administration, there was a lack of institutional control with relation to the failure of the institution’s academic eligibility certification system and the failure of the athletics administration to monitor the rules education of employees who managed the system.

    Once the NCAA staff and the university agreed on all the violations involved in the case, the case was forwarded to the Committee on Infractions via the joint summary disposition report. In the report, the enforcement staff noted that, “the institution's self-report was excellent in that it was comprehensive and clear.”

    The committee reviewed our case, agreed that we had taken appropriate corrective actions and agreed with the total number of scholarship reductions we imposed. However, the committee recommended that we consider a reduction by one scholarship in men’s basketball. As a result, we restructured our initial scholarship reduction plan to include a reduction of one scholarship in men’s basketball, while at the same time reinstating one scholarship in baseball.

    I am not happy that I am here reporting this information to you today. I have very high expectations for my staff and everyone associated with the Rutgers athletics program. The situation in which we found ourselves in the fall of 2000 was incompatible with the integrity of this university and the proper function of our intercollegiate athletics program and necessitated swift and decisive action. My department and this institution took the right steps in identifying the problem, investigating the problem and rectifying the problem. I commend the efforts of each and every person in my department and on this campus who assisted throughout this process. I would also like to acknowledge the NCAA Committee on Infractions and the NCAA staff, which worked with us so productively and effectively.

    I would like to add that the university was informed last month that its athletics certification status was reaffirmed by the Division I Committee on Athletics Certification after that committee reviewed the university’s required interim athletics certification report.

    We have made great strides as a result of the problem that occurred:
    We have a new and functional eligibility system that involves the appropriate authorities in the university’s academic community. The university created a director of student-athlete certification position. We have three full-time professional staff in our compliance operation. With our continuous rules education program, our coaches, our staff and our student-athletes have a much greater awareness of NCAA rules and regulations. We have improved our academic support program for our student-athletes. We have made great strides over the last few years and we continue to improve every day.

    In the long run, discovering this problem when we did and taking the actions we took has greatly benefited this department. We did the right thing and we are now better positioned for success in all areas than we ever have been.

    Statement on NCAA Eligibility Rules Violations
    Dr. Richard L. McCormick
    President, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

    Soon after I became president of Rutgers University in December 2002, I outlined four goals for the university’s athletics program. High among these goals is integrity of the program and all those connected with it. These violations, which occurred over several years prior to February 2001, are extremely serious and are inconsistent with this goal. Everyone in the university community and our state should know that the violations, although random and unintentional, are being taken extremely seriously by me and have already been addressed by the athletic director. I do not want to see this situation repeated at Rutgers ever again.

    It is simply unacceptable that these violations occurred at all. However, the manner in which the violations were identified, reported and corrected reflects the commitment to integrity by the program’s present leadership.

    When Bob Mulcahy arrived at Rutgers in 1998, one of his first responsibilities was to examine the operations of his department. In reviewing the eligibility certification process, he identified a significant problem, investigated it thoroughly, took corrective action, and self-reported the discovered violations to the NCAA. He then instituted a wholly new certification process for student athletes at Rutgers.

    The diligence and candor of Bob and his staff in responding to the violations have been acknowledged in comments by NCAA staff members. They noted that the university “deserves significant credit for eventually detecting, investigating and self-reporting these major violations.” The NCAA found that our self-report was “excellent” and that “the institution's handling of this serious matter is a model for other institutions involved in self-reporting major violations.”

    By addressing the problem forthrightly, Bob Mulcahy and his team vastly improved our system for monitoring and certifying eligibility in compliance with NCAA regulations. Bob and I share the same four goals for the university’s entire athletics program. They are to ensure the academic success of our student-athletes; to have a program of unquestioned integrity; to move the program toward budgetary self-sufficiency, and to be athletically successful on the field. I am confident that Rutgers is on its way toward meeting these goals.

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