By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Boise State might score a partial victory in its appeal of sanctions handed down by the NCAA last year.
The Division I Infractions Appeals Committee has instructed the Committee on Infractions to reconsider its scholarship penalties against the Broncos football program — a loss of three scholarships per year over three years (2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons). The appeals committee upheld the spring practice penalty, which took away three opportunities to have full contact in practice in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Those were the only penalties appealed by Boise State.
The football program still loses three preseason practices for this season, as it did last season. That penalty was self-imposed.
Boise State argued that the history of scholarship reductions imposed by the NCAA was inconsistent with precedent. The school had self-imposed a penalty of three total scholarships, a penalty the program took last season.
"Boise State contends that these penalties are excessive such that they constitute abuses of discretion in the situation presented by the case," the school’s appeal says. “… The Committee improperly increased the self-imposed football grant-in-aid restrictions ... even though the penalty is not warranted and is inconsistent with precedent and the circumstances of this case.”
The appeals committee said prior precedent “should have been more fully weighed and considered.”
In fact, the appeals committee says Boise State is right to argue that it received stiffer scholarship penalties than schools that committed more serious offenses. Of 10 cases involving FBS schools and the reduction of scholarships over the past five years, the committee notes, only two received larger penalties. Those involved New Mexico and USC and “were more serious and had a great deal more issues that warranted greater penalties,” the committee writes. Of the remaining eight, only three had reductions of more than three scholarships. Those cases included academic fraud (Florida State), payment of a student-athlete for work not performed (Oklahoma) and inappropriate academic support (Kansas). “Again, we believe those cases were more serious than this one and warranted additional penalties,” the committee writes.
“In this case, there appears to be no qualitative distinction in the record that would warrant the extent of the departure from prior precedent that was undertaken by the Committee on Infractions in this case. Therefore, the reduction by nine of football grants-in-aid is excessive,” the committee concludes. “This committee, while recognizing the authority of the Committee on Infractions, respectfully finds that in this case the Committee on Infractions failed to consider and weigh the material factors of the precedent set in prior cases. Therefore, the Committee on Infractions' increase of the reduction in football grants-in-aid from three to nine imposed a penalty that was excessive such that it constituted an abuse of discretion. For that reason the Infractions Appeals Committee believes it is appropriate to remand to the Committee on Infractions for reconsideration of the appropriate penalty.”
There is no timeline yet for the COI to reconsider the penalties. Fall camp begins Aug. 4. Penalties are stayed during the appeals process, so Boise State likely will be able to use 85 scholarships this season if a final decision isn’t made before camp. That could mean giving the extra three scholarships to walk-ons or adding players expected to grayshirt to the team in August instead of January.
On the spring practice penalty, Boise State argued the penalty was an error of judgment because the violations did not involve practice time. However, the school self-imposed the fall practice penalty and opened that door, the appeals committee wrote.
“We find this argument to be unpersuasive especially in light of the institution’s self-imposed penalty,” the committee wrote.
The Committee on Infractions had been upheld on appeal in 11 straight cases before Boise State’s. The last winners on appeal were Eastern Washington (Oct. 27, 2009), which had its postseason ban for football overturned, and Alabama State (June 30, 2009), which had its probation reduced from five to three years. In those cases, the appeals committee changed the penalties rather than send them back to the COI for reconsideration.
Read the full Boise State appeal report here.
Here are quotes from Boise State President Bob Kustra and Athletic Director Mark Coyle:
Kustra: “Boise State has acknowledged and accepted the findings in the NCAA report for all of the identified sports. We have approached this case seriously, acted in full cooperation with the NCAA and implemented corrective actions and sanctions. However, we thought it important to appeal these football penalties due to the circumstances of this case and the ruling precedent, and we are pleased that the Appeals Committee agreed in the case of the scholarships. We will await a decision from the Infractions Committee on the final scholarship penalty.”
Coyle: “The entire process has deepened our commitment to compliance, resulted in tangible changes to our program and created a greater awareness of the NCAA rules. Boise State moves forward in firm belief that proper adherence to NCAA rules is a top priority of the athletic program.”
Here is the Boise State press release.
This was the first major-violation case in Boise State history. The school appeared in front of the COI on June 10 and the penalties were released Sept. 13. The committee upheld 18 major violations spread across five years and involving more than 75 student-athletes in five sports — football, men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s track and field/cross country.
The football violations stemmed from the way the program housed incoming recruits in the summer before enrollment. Coaches connected the recruits with returning team members who had an open room or couch. Some recruits received impermissible benefits, such as free or reduced-cost housing, meals and transportation. And coaches aren’t allowed to arrange housing, even if the recruits pay full price.
John Infante, who writes about NCAA compliance issues for the Bylaw Blog, broke down why he thinks Boise State prevailed here.