Cal Poly Athletics Director Don Oberhelman is speaking out following a NCAA decision to punish Cal Poly Athletics for misallocating textbook scholarships, saying the ruling “further exposes the hypocrisy of the NCAA.”

“This should never happen to a student,” Oberhelman said. “The very reason the NCAA exists is to help protect the rights of student athletes. And not only did they fail, they took those rights. They punished — unfairly — the innocent. How is that a system of justice?”

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Cal Poly was sanctioned by the NCAA on April 18, 2019 for giving out $800 textbook stipends to some student-athletes from 2012-2015. The NCAA found a total of 72 student-athletes across 18 of 22 sports received an average of $175 in extra stipends. As a result, Cal Poly is probation for two years, has to pay a self-imposed $5,000 fine and will be forced to vacate the records of teams and players found in violation.

“If this is the new day for the NCAA, that national office staff is going to have a heavy hand in their own demise, because I don’t think the membership is going to put up with this kind of stuff for very long,” Oberhelman said.

It is currently unknown which sports will be affected by the NCAA’s punishment. Oberhelman said the NCAA and Cal Poly disagree on the number of student athletes that received improper book stipends. As a result, Oberhelman said both parties will be “sorting that out over the next 30 to 60 days.”

“[We will be] scouring our records and seeing who was impacted, when did they compete and did that competition impact the outcome of a contest, and what was the meaning of that contest?” Oberhelman said. “We’ll do that over the course of the next several weeks and month and then report that to the NCAA, and then they’ll do their own work and see how we align.”

When the university is made aware of the specific sports affected, Oberhelman said the student-athletes who received extra book stipend money will hear from him directly.

“That’s going to be a very emotional and challenging conversation to have with those student athletes,” Oberhelman said. “I’ve heard from several of the former student-athletes, ‘Hey, am I involved?’ And we’ll let them know in person when that time comes.”

Oberhelman also pointed to similar cases in which the NCAA handed down lighter punishments to other universities. The University of Nebraska found it had improperly distributed nearly $28,000 in textbooks and other school supplies to 492 student athletes in 2012. The university received two years of probation, paid a self imposed $38,000 fine and did not have to vacate any previous records.

“[That] case from 2012 is factually incredibly similar to ours. It does not deviate,” Oberhelman said. “The only difference is their case involved a greater number of student-athletes over a greater period of years involving a greater dollar figure, and they did not have to vacate records. So what’s the difference between the University of Nebraska in 2012 and Cal Poly in 2015?”

Cal Poly self-reported the mistake in 2015 immediately after realizing the error. Oberhelman said the NCAA’s punishment sets a bad precedent for future universities who decide to self report errors to the organization. 

“God forbid we give our students textbooks, right?” Oberhelman said. “But, it was still a mistake on our part. I think the disappointing thing is after we owned it and admitted it and were honest about it, we were treated as though we would have not cooperated or lied. And, and I think that’s a sad day for the NCAA right now.”

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