Cal Poly will be forced to vacate records after the NCAA upheld the decision to punish the program for misusing textbook scholarships as announced Thursday, Feb. 6.

“We are deeply disappointed by the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee’s decision to vacate the hard-earned individual records of some of Cal Poly’s former student-athletes over a relatively minor accounting error,” a statement from Cal Poly read. “In our view, the NCAA has sidestepped its responsibility to fairness and sensible treatment of the very student-athletes the association is supposed to protect.”

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. Cal Poly self-reported the error in August 2017.

The NCAA’s investigation stated student-athletes also misused funds from the book stipends by spending the money on non-course related materials. This included food, rent, utilities and auto repairs, according to the NCAA.

As a result, Cal Poly is on probation for two years, paid a self-imposed $5,000 fine and will be forced to vacate the records of teams and players found in violation.

While the affected teams and players have not been released, individual records, Big West Championships and Men’s Basketball’s only NCAA Tournament appearance are among the records that could be vacated.

“For the NCAA to go outside of relevant case precedent and require innocent student-athletes to vacate their hard-earned wins over a minor accounting error is an embarrassment to our association and should concern all of our Division I peers,” the Cal Poly statement read.

The ruling also sparked confusion among former student-athletes.

“A vacation of records penalty is designed to hold a member school accountable for its responsibility to understand and follow NCAA rules and address competitive advantages gained by a member school’s failure to withhold ineligible student-athletes from competition,” the NCAA’s news release read.

Cal Poly began the appeals process to overturn the ruling in June 2019. President Jeffrey Armstrong, Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey and Athletics Director Don Oberhelman met with the NCAA Infractions Appeal Committee on Oct. 24, 2019.

Cal Poly released the following statement Thursday morning:

“We are deeply disappointed by the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee’s decision to vacate the hard-earned individual records of some of Cal Poly’s former student-athletes over a relatively minor accounting error. In our view, the NCAA has sidestepped its responsibility to fairness and sensible treatment of the very student-athletes the association is supposed to protect.

It is important to note that Cal Poly discovered the accounting error — which amounted to over-awarding textbooks to 30 student athletes an average of $175 — and promptly self-reported the error to the NCAA. The university accepted the NCAA’s initial sanctions, with the glaring exception of the NCAA’s decision to force Cal Poly to vacate the records of, and thereby unfairly punish, innocent individual student-athletes who played no part in committing the accounting error and gained no competitive advantage from it.

Throughout the process, the NCAA has repeatedly chosen to ignore prior cases that have facts nearly identical to those that occurred at Cal Poly. An example of this involved the University of Nebraska, which included more money in over-awarded text books ($27,869) and involved a greater number of student-athletes. In that case, the NCAA did not require Nebraska to vacate individual student-athlete records. Given this clear precedent, we find it incomprehensible that the NCAA is forcing Cal Poly to vacate the records of completely innocent student-athletes. 

Furthermore, it is both confusing and disturbing that the NCAA has chosen to compare Cal Poly’s minor text book violation to shocking cases of impropriety. The NCAA actually compared Cal Poly’s text book error to cases at other universities that involved athletic staff members securing prostitutes for recruits, writing papers for student-athletes, lying to investigators, and intentional acts designed to gain a competitive advantage. Nothing like that has occurred at Cal Poly.

For the NCAA to go outside of relevant case precedent and require innocent student-athletes to vacate their hard-earned wins over a minor accounting error is an embarrassment to our association and should concern all of our Division I peers. In our opinion, the NCAA national office has demonstrated in this case, and in several other recent cases, that they have lost the ability to appropriately adjudicate the minor cases self-reported to them. This is in addition to the NCAA’s inability to investigate and prosecute serious and significant cases that involve actual acts of impropriety and cheating.

In addition, the message the NCAA sends to other institutions through this decision could have a chilling effect on future enforcement processes as it relates to institutions self-reporting and whether they should cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff. At Cal Poly, we believe we owe it to our 550 student-athletes and our university to uphold honor and integrity in everything we do, and we believe in self-reporting any and all issues as they arise. The question is whether today’s action by the NCAA encourages or discourages a culture of compliance and integrity throughout the membership nationally.

Cal Poly is grateful to everyone who has supported the university and our student-athletes throughout this process and during the more than four years it took the NCAA to reach this troubling conclusion, including the 295 days since the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions handed down its initial ruling. After going through this procedure, we will advocate for meaningful reform in the NCAA enforcement process. At Cal Poly we are unwavering in our continued commitment as written in The Mustang Way: Integrity and character shall guide all our decisions and actions.”

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