Confusion was the general reaction among former Cal Poly student-athletes when they learned their former university’s recent titles may be erased from the record books.
“You just kind of sit back on a ruling like this and try and decipher what people are thinking, because it just doesn’t seem to make too much sense,” former Cal Poly Baseball center fielder Alex McKenna said.
Cal Poly was found to have given improper textbook stipends to student-athletes between the 2012-13 school year and Fall 2015, the NCAA announced on April 18. The NCAA placed Cal Poly on a two-year probation and will force the vacation of records from that time frame. While it is not yet known what accomplishments will be affected by the NCAA’s decision, 265 student-athletes in 18 of 22 of Cal Poly’s teams received the improper stipends.
“To punish the athletes, it’s almost like they’re getting punished for something that they didn’t even really know was happening,” McKenna said.
Cal Poly unintentionally distributed textbook scholarships like room and board scholarships, which are allowed to be given in stipends to cover off-campus housing costs.
“When you receive a scholarship at Cal Poly … whether it’s for books or it’s for tuition, housing, whatever it is, as a student athlete, you don’t really question it,” McKenna said. “You kinda just say thank you and be appreciative of it.”
Cal Poly gave student-athletes an $800 stipend for textbooks. Some student-athletes used this money for unrelated items, “such as food, rent, utilities and car repairs,” according to the NCAA press release, causing them to have received “impermissible benefits.”
“I get a scholarship check, and it’s a certain amount of money — sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less,” former Cal Poly Football fullback Joe Protheroe said. “If they went out and gave me an extra $150, how am I supposed to know that? Like, I got kids to take care of.”
“If they went out and gave me an extra $150, how am I supposed to know that? Like, I got kids to take care of.”
Protheroe is Cal Poly Football’s all-time leader in rushing yards, with 4,271 yards through his five years as a Mustang. The 973 yards he ran in the 2014 and 2015 seasons would be removed from his stats if he is deemed ineligible.
The stipend also caused 30 student-athletes to receive aid that exceeded their individual financial aid limits. On average, those 30 student-athletes received an extra $174.57.
“It was like, it’s $174 that they’re sweating us over,” Protheroe said. “You’re going to vacate a record because of that?”
“I think it’s totally unfair,” former Cal Poly Women’s Basketball guard Dynn Leaupepe said. “That punishment doesn’t equal whatever crime they think was committed by Cal Poly.”
Leaupepe is a top three all-time scorer for Women’s Basketball with 1,636 career points. In her freshman season in 2014-15, she recorded 229 points and four double-doubles.
The NCAA did not believe Cal Poly broke the rule on purpose but also said there was no ambiguity in the wording of the rule.
“People are going to say, for me and for others, it doesn’t affect us, but it does a little bit,” McKenna said. “You don’t want that to be on Cal Poly’s headline.”
After being notified of the possibility of the infraction in 2015, Cal Poly Athletics submitted a self-report of the violation to the NCAA in August 2017.
“Cal Poly has cooperated in every way with the NCAA throughout this process that began in 2015,” Cal Poly director of athletics Don Oberhelman said in a press release. “There was never an intent to violate NCAA rules, and when we discovered the issue, we self-reported it to the NCAA.”
“It just goes to show that we are built on integrity and honesty,” Leaupepe said. “I don’t know how you can punish the university that comes forward and actually tells the truth.”
“I don’t know how you can punish the university that comes forward and actually tells the truth”
“You hear things that some of these bigger universities may be taking advantage of the system a little bit, but we’ll never know,” McKenna said. “And it feels like, being a smaller, mid-major type of university … these aren’t conferences that have big time money, and you’re not bringing in a ton of revenue every year. And it seems like we got targeted a little bit, to be honest. And maybe they made an example of us.”
Head coaches of teams with student-athletes found ineligible will also have their records vacated. McKenna said Cal Poly Baseball head coach Larry Lee was one of the most influential people he played for. Lee has lead the Mustangs to 534 wins in his 17 year tenure.
“To see him get those wins taken away, that’s a tough pill for me to swallow just because I feel like I got pretty close to him over the years, and it sucks,” McKenna said. “That’s really all you can say. It really sucks.”
Six conference championship titles, four NCAA tournament appearances and individual record-breaking statistics could be erased from Cal Poly Athletics history.
While McKenna did not play for the Mustangs until 2016, he played with multiple members of the 2014 Cal Poly Baseball team. That season, Cal Poly Baseball won the Big West Conference championship while setting the program’s single season win record, with a 47-12 overall record.
“[Cal Poly Athletics] has created a good culture of winning teams during that time, and it’s really disappointing to see all that kind of get erased,” McKenna said.
The 2012 Football team earned a Big Sky Conference championship and made it to the second round of the FCS playoffs.
“I think those dudes are all successful now, and they’re not even tripping,” Protheroe said. “They’ll probably just be mad at the NCAA if anything. They’re still gonna wear the championship ring. I would too.”
“They’re still gonna wear the championship ring. I would too.”
Men’s Basketball made their first ever March Madness in 2014, while Women’s Basketball made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013. For student-athletes, these postseason achievements can be an appealing factor in the recruitment process.
“When I was being recruited by them, that was a big part of what I wanted to be a part of,” Leaupepe said. “I thought that during that time frame I wanted to extend that winning culture as well.”
Individual student-athlete records and statistics will only be vacated for student-athletes who were made ineligible by receiving an improper textbook stipend.
“Personally, it would hurt to see that go,” Leaupepe said. “But I know what I did my first year … I don’t need to have the NCAA show me what I did.”
“In my eyes, I’m still the career-leading rusher,” Protheroe said. “Records, at the end of the day, are just like trophies. They’re going to collect dust … maybe when I’m 45 or something I’ll be more angry about it.”
However, the former student-athletes said they do not think this should detract from Cal Poly’s reputation.
“I know that if players are committed to go to Cal Poly and play baseball there, they’re going to get one of the best baseball experiences you can get in the country,” McKenna said.
“I love Cal Poly Athletics,” Protheroe said. “I think this whole probation or whatever it’s going to be, it’s stupid. It’s dumb.”
Cal Poly Athletics has until June 2 to release the list of records that will be vacated.