June 14, 2012

NCAA penalizes UNE for violating financial aid rules

NCAA officials reprimand the Division III school for using scholarship funds to entice hockey players.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The University of New England has been reprimanded and put on athletic probation by the NCAA, which determined that the school used inordinate amounts of Diversity Scholarship money to entice Canadian hockey players to enroll.

click image to enlarge

UNE President Danielle Ripich

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division III Committee on Infractions announced Wednesday that UNE violated financial aid rules and failed to adequately monitor admissions officers who were responsible for awarding scholarships.

The NCAA said that from 2008 to 2010, the university gave more Diversity Scholarship money -- intended to enhance UNE's cultural and ethnic diversity -- to student-athletes than to the rest of the student body. NCAA rules prevent Division III schools from granting athletic scholarships.

The Committee on Infractions noted in its news release and public infractions report that the violations were "unintentional."

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said Wednesday's announcement was part of the public reprimand and censure component of the citation. UNE's athletics program will also be on probation for two years, effective Wednesday through June 12, 2014.

According to the NCAA's infractions report, student-athletes comprised 34 percent of the students receiving Diversity Scholarship money in 2008-09. They were awarded 43 percent of the available money.

On average, student-athletes received $2,039 more in that year than students who did not play sports, according to the NCAA.

During the 2009-10 academic year, student-athletes comprised 27 percent of the students receiving scholarships. They were awarded 42 percent of the available funds, according to the report.

In 2009-10, the largest Diversity Scholarship given to an American athlete was $6,000, while the scholarships given to "international athletes" ranged from $12,000 to $20,500, the NCAA said.

"The disparity in the amount of the individual awards demonstrated a distinguishable pattern of aid for student-athletes, with international student athletes receiving a disproportionate amount of the total funds awarded," the NCAA said.

Osburn said the infractions committee found that UNE failed to monitor communications between coaches and the admissions office.

The men's basketball coach and the men's hockey coach knew of the Diversity Scholarship and mentioned it when recruiting prospective student-athletes, according to the NCAA report.

The report says emails between the hockey coach and the former men's basketball coach and UNE's two associate admissions directors showed the coaches' awareness that the associate directors could "make and influence financial aid decisions regarding student athletes. None of these individuals had received education regarding the impropriety of such communications."

UNE President Danielle Ripich responded to the announcement by sending an email to teachers, staff members and students Wednesday afternoon. She said the university, which has campuses in Biddeford and Portland, fully cooperated with the NCAA and simultaneously did its own evaluation of the financial procedures in question.

UNE took action to correct the problem, she said, including suspending and then reassigning Athletic Director Kimberly Allen in January 2011 and notifying six hockey players that they would get less scholarship money than they had been promised if they continued to play.

As a result of UNE's actions, Ripich said, the NCAA will not impose additional penalties.

"I believe the NCAA's decision was fair and thoughtful. We have learned from this and strengthened our resolve to ensure that our athletics and our university operate in full compliance with NCAA regulations," Ripich said.

Under the terms of its probation, the university must inform all prospective student-athletes in men's basketball and men's ice hockey of the violations that were committed.

UNE also must publicize the violations in its sports media guides, on the home page of its athletics department website and in an alumni publication to be selected at a later date.

The school must submit a preliminary report to the NCAA infractions committee by Aug. 1, laying out a schedule and plan for a more comprehensive rules education program for coaches and others in the athletics department.

(Continued on page 2)

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