March 27, 2011

NCAA probes athletes' financial aid

Six hockey players are blindsided when UNE reacts to the probe with a pay-or-don't-play demand.

(Continued from page 2)

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Kody Collins is one of six Canadian hockey players who were forced to make quick decisions about their schooling when UNE changed their financial aid awards last August.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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How NCAA polices the rule against athletic scholarships

The NCAA has required Division III schools to report the financial aid they award to athletes compared to that given to non-athletes every year since 2005.

The system was designed to create a uniform way for schools to prove they don’t award athletic scholarships – a longstanding principle in Division III sports.

“We want schools to gather the data, report it, and use it to determine whether or not student-athletes are receiving disproportionate aid,” said Dan Dutcher, the NCAA’s Division III vice president.

The process begins around September, when schools submit a report on the previous academic year.

If financial aid figures for athletes don’t mirror those for the student body as a whole, the report triggers a series of reviews.

A Level I review begins sometime in October, and several months pass before the review is closed or schools are notified of a Level II review.

During the second review period, schools are asked to provide any documentation they have to justify the aid, according to Eric Hartung, the NCAA’s associate director of research for Division III.

“Keep in mind, many of these schools are in contact with us throughout the process,” said Hartung.

“The vast majority are very proactive on this front and really want to make sure all their ducks are in a row.”

A fact-finding committee reviews the report, and if it finds a violation, the matter is forwarded to NCAA for enforcement.

Several months can elapse before the enforcement process is completed and sanctions are imposed on an institution.

Five years into the program, the majority of infractions stem from two specific situations, according to a May 2010 report by the NCAA.

The first concerns continuing uncertainty about the rules that prohibit giving financial aid to a student for any reason related to athletics – even including whether someone played high school sports or served in a leadership role as, say, a captain.

The second is when schools award aid for something that does not directly target athletes but turns out to give athletes a disproportionate amount of aid.

“As time goes on, the idea of a lack of knowledge is becoming something that may receive less credence moving forward,” said Dutcher, the Division III vice president. “Five years into it, I think there’s a widespread understanding of the process and its rationale.”

– Jenn Menendez

The Collinses could not afford the extra $8,000-plus a year. Nancy works for an insurance company, and Kody Collins' father, Mike Collins, is a caretaker for a high school. They have one other son in college and a 15-year-old daughter, both of whom play hockey.

"We deserve a letter," said Nancy Collins. "When Kody chose to attend UNE, we didn't know anything about this. ... It all comes down to they messed up somewhere and gave out too much money. I just want a letter explaining what they did wrong. I don't want other people to have to go through this."

HOW THE PLAYERS COPED

In all, six players were affected by the situation, according to the Collins family.

The other five are Jon Grandinetti, a sophomore defenseman from Ottawa, Ontario, who transferred to USM; Dallas Ungarian, a goalie who stayed home in Alberta; Dave Walters, who would have been a freshman defenseman at UNE this year, and two players who stayed at UNE and are playing on the hockey team: Scott McManaman, a sophomore forward from Amherst, Nova Scotia; and Adam Laite, a sophomore forward from Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Walters said he received a phone call about the scholarship reduction from UNE just 24 hours before his planned departure to Maine in late August.

"We were stunned," Walters said. "We didn't know what to do and couldn't believe it at first. I didn't have any time. It was too late to transfer."

Walters spent the fall semester at UNE as a regular student and transferred in December to Plymouth State in New Hampshire, where he played hockey.

"My family and I are over it now and kind of just putting it in the past just to move on," said Walters. "I feel bad for Kody and hope he can get things worked out."

Grandinetti said he transferred immediately to USM, and is commuting 40 minutes to Gorham because he signed a yearlong lease for off-campus housing in Biddeford.

"It still bugs me every now and then," said Grandinetti. "It's not right what they did. But I got out quick. I wish it could've gone better, but I'm happy being at USM. The whole thing is a big mess. It's nothing the coach or the team did, but really, the school."

Laite said he forfeited his summer earnings earmarked for a new car to cover the additional money, and his family took out another small loan. He said he may be forced to graduate a year early because of the expense.

As a team, he said, the loss of three top defensemen and a goalie was difficult.

"It definitely affected our team as far as quality goes," said Laite. "We lost three of our best defensemen and a starting goalie. And it was hard to swallow losing games when you think guys aren't putting in the same dedication level and you know the extra things you've done to be there."

McManaman did not respond to a request for an interview.

Collins, Walters and Grandinetti each stressed that UNE hockey coach Brad Holt was as helpful as possible and they hold no ill will toward him or the team. They each also stay in touch with teammates from UNE.

Holt declined to comment.

The hockey program is only in its second year of varsity status. The team played at the club level before being accepted into the ECAC East League two years ago.

The team closed the season last month at 6-19 following a loss to Norwich in the opening round of the ECAC Men's East League Tournament.

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

jmenendez@pressherald.com

 

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