The NCAA sanctioned Division II swimming program West Chester University on Friday for violations stemming from mismanagement of a private club that had been operating on campus for decades.
The investigation began this spring when a new assistant athletic director discovered the infractions and self-reported them to the NCAA. A review found that Golden Rams Aquatics (GRA) had been annually funneling $25,000 of their year-end proceeds to help fund the budget of West Chester’s athletic department. The source of the money was traditionally labeled as camps or clinics on university financial audits as opposed to a local sports club. The former athletic director and head swim coach also hired a head coach for GRA who also served as an assistant coach at West Chester.
NCAA legislation permits schools to sponsor local sports clubs that include prospective student-athletes if there is no athletic department or booster involvement. College coaches may work for an affiliated local sports club if bylaws are followed in the process. The Division II Committee on Infractions ruled that West Chester committed multiple violations by maintaining “financial and managerial control over the club” and allowing a college coach to work at a sponsored club.
Consequently, the NCAA fined West Chester $25,000 and imposed recruiting penalties that last until the end of the school’s two-year probationary period.
The penalties include delaying the recruiting of prospective athletes by one year to June 15 preceding their senior year of high school. Prospective recruits will no longer be able to practice with the team during visits to campus, nor will they receive free admission to football or basketball games. There’s more: National Letter of Intent signing will be pushed back by eight weeks, and the recruiting budget will be reduced by 25%.
“We would expect it’s going to be tougher for us,” West Chester president Christopher Fiorentino said.
Additionally, West Chester won’t be allowed to rent out its swimming and diving facilities to local sports clubs for two years as part of the sanctions.
University officials told The Philadelphia Inquirer that when they took control of GRA in the late 1980s, the practice was not a violation, but regulations changed in 1994. Fiorentino said an outside firm’s audit of the athletic department should be completed soon to hopefully determine why the infractions were not reported sooner.
While many NCAA Division I schools own local club teams, like the University of Texas (Longhorn Aquatics) and University of Denver (Hilltoppers), NCAA Division II rules explicitly forbid it.
188.8.131.52.1 Institutional Sponsorship of Local Sports Club. Neither an institution’s athletics department nor an institution’s athletics booster group may sponsor a local sports club that includes prospective student-athletes. It is permissible for a department of the institution that operates independent of the athletics department (e.g., physical education department, recreation department) to sponsor a local sports club that includes prospective student-athletes, provided no athletics department staff member is involved with the club team. [D] (Adopted: 1/16/93, Revised: 1/11/94)
“We wanted to ensure there are no other problems,” Fiorentino said. “We have additional work to do to understand exactly what happened, when and why. We need to understand why it was not detected, and we need to be sure something like this would never happen again.”
The athletics department stopped running GRA back in May. No individuals have been disciplined yet in connection with West Chester’s investigation.
West Chester enjoyed tremendous success in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference while operating GRA. The Golden Rams’ men have captured 23 conference titles since 1994, and the women have won 19.
“This is a swimming and diving team matter and comes at no fault of any individual swimming and diving athletes, past or present. No other sports teams were involved in this NCAA bylaw violation,” senior vice president and provost Jeffery L. Osgood, Jr. said. “Committed to the same principles of academic integrity and ethical decision-making that it expects of all those within its community of educators, West Chester University accepts the findings of the NCAA’s investigation and takes full responsibility. President Fiorentino has taken decisive steps to correct these practices and to create a culture of compliance by voluntarily hiring outside experts to perform a comprehensive NCAA compliance assessment. The university is confident that a violation of this nature will not be repeated at West Chester University.”
“Integrity, ethical standards and a commitment to doing what is right are uncompromising principles for West Chester University,” Osgood added. “I am proud of the way we acknowledged the matter by self-reporting the actions detailed and working collaboratively with the NCAA to come to a final resolution. We will use this critical lesson to instill an environment of full compliance throughout our athletic department. Our students deserve nothing less and we will work hard to make them proud through our united actions now and in the days that will follow.”