The NCAA is way out of bounds in punishing Cal Poly student-athletes for a trivial infraction committed through no fault of theirs.
It’s yet another case of hitting small schools with harsh sanctions for minor mistakes while showing leniency to large universities that commit much more serious violations, and it’s yet another signal of the need for meaningful reform of the powerful organization that governs college athletics..
Here’s what happened at Cal Poly: Student athletes receiving financial aid were issued $800 stipends for books and supplies. Cal Poly was supposed to collect receipts to ensure the entire $800 was indeed used for books, but Poly wasn’t aware of the requirement.
As a result, some students wound up having money left over — as little as a piddling $5 in one case. Students used their “windfalls” on expenses like food, rent, utilities and car repairs, according to the NCAA report..
How dare they, right?
This is a farce. At most, this violation earns a light slap on the wrist in the form of probation, a fine and proof that the mistake has been corrected.
After all, we’re not talking about academic fraud, violent behavior by team members, or illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars and fancy cars to athletes — all of which deserve harsh sanctions.
Nope, we’re talking about an insignificant bean-counting error.
According to NCAA calculations, Poly overpaid 72 students by a total $16,180 over a three-and-a-half-year period.
Cal Poly’s calculations put those figures even lower; it claims only 30 students were over-awarded, and the total was just $5,237.10
For that, the NCAA is piling it on with a $5,000 fine, two years of probation, a public reprimand and censure and, most heartbreaking of all, an order to vacate all regular-season wins and postseason participation between 2012 and 2015.
That time frame includes the 2014 Big West men’s basketball championship that sent the Mustangs to the preliminary round of the NCAA tournament for first time in university history — a remarkable achievement for an underdog team that put Cal Poly basketball on the map.
It also would negate postseason appearances by men’s soccer in 2015; women’s basketball in 2013 and 2014; football in 2012; and baseball in 2013 and 2014.
That’s punishing entire teams. Essentially, the NCAA is telling student-athletes that their achievements in sport don’t count.
How heartless. Punish Cal Poly, but don’t rob hundreds of students of the honors and distinctions they earned. The university has many other seasons ahead of it, but these former students can’t get a do-over of their college athletic careers.
Sadly, Cal Poly isn’t the only university victimized for mishandling book stipends. A couple of other universities committed violations in the past and were dealt with in a similar manner.
The NCAA would do well to temper its punishments to accurately fit the crime. Remember, this is an organization that happily earns untold millions of dollars each year on the backs of unpaid student-athletes.
We strongly urge the administration to appeal this decision and take a stronger, more vocal stance in this case, for the sake the university’s athletic program, the student-athletes who are directly involved and the thousands of dedicated fans of Cal Poly athletics who are no doubt outraged over this.
We would love to see Cal Poly come out fighting against this unfair treatment.