FAIRBANKS — The NCAA is investigating a series of mistakes made by the University of Alaska Fairbanks when advising student athletes and deciding their eligibility to play, university Chancellor Brian Rogers said Tuesday during a media conference.
The infractions involved 17 students during a four-year period, from the 2007-08 season through the spring of 2011.
UAF self-reported the mistakes in June 2011 based on circumstances discovered by Kristi Giddings, the university’s NCAA compliance director. Supplemental reports were filed with the NCAA in August and October 2011.
“Part of the NCAA Division II philosophy and membership requires us to police ourselves,” Dr. Gary Gray, UAF athletic director, said during the media conference in the Nanook Lounge of the Patty Center. “So that’s why we look for anything that we can find within the program that’s not meeting the letter of the law, so to speak, within the NCAA.”
The university offers 10 sports. It competes at the NCAA Division II level in all but hockey and rifle, which are Division I sports for the Nanooks.
The 17 students, said Rogers, were reported as eligible when, at times, they were not eligible under NCAA rules.
“I think it’s important to note that these infractions are not the result of wrongdoing or poor academic performance by student athletes, who collectively have higher-than-average GPAs and graduation rates,” Rogers said.
Rogers put the blame squarely on the university administration.
“This was the university’s mistake, not the student athletes,” said Rogers, who was joined at the media conference by Mike Sfraga, vice chancellor of university relations.
“It is our job to accurately certify eligibility and we fell down on the job over a four-year period,” Rogers added.
According to UAF, the infractions occurred when the institution’s advising and sports eligibility systems failed to alert students who hadn’t earned enough credits or who had switched majors without doing the official paperwork. To compete in athletics, students must progress toward a declared degree and earn 12 or more credits per semester with a minimum 2.0 GPA.
The infractions involved students on the hockey, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, swimming, women’s Nordic skiing and rifle teams.
As part of the self-reporting process, the university suspended nine scholarships during the next three years — two each in hockey, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and rifle and one in women’s Nordic skiing. The Nanooks also are on a self-imposed two-year probation, which does not affect postseason play.
The NCAA could impose further penalties, depending upon its findings during its major infractions investigation. Those sanctions could include fines; further scholarship reductions; an extension of the probation period; bans on postseason competition; and forfeitures of victories that involved the ineligible students.
Rogers said the university would accept any further penalties from the NCAA if the NCAA requires them. The university does not intend to contest the case, as it concerns infractions that were self-reported.
“In some cases, we’re a little bit more stringent than other schools on academic eligibility,” said Rogers, “but again in this case, we were wrong.”
Rogers said the university has made some administrative changes to ensure the Nanooks comply with NCAA rules.
The university has added two academic advisers specifically for student athletes. Another position has been added to the registrar’s office to ensure NCAA compliance.
Rogers said most of the problems could have been solved by adequate academic advising.
“But we were not providing adequate academic advising to the students at that time,” he said, “nor was our staff well trained in the some of the differences between success as we define as a university and success as the NCAA regards academic satisfactory academic progress.”
Sfraga said the university has three types of academic advisers —faculty members, athletic academic advisers and professional staff advisers.
Faculty members advise students on degree requirements. Athletic academic advisers take into consideration the discipline requirements, and compare and contrast them to NCAA requirements.
“In best case scenarios, there are dialogues between the different types of advisors,” Sfraga said. “A faculty member will tell the student exactly what they need for their academic degree. We’re asking an athletic academic adviser to reinforce that but also to make sure that the nuances in these two types of requirements are discussed and met, and the protocols are in place for the checks and balances.”
The professional staff adviser, said Sfraga, is trained in the field of academic advising and is fully aware of the academic requirements of the university.
UAF’s Academic Advising Center is on the fifth floor of the Gruening Building.