The College was handed a three-year probationary period and three-year postseason ban by the NCAA
On March 22, 2016 the NCAA concluded an investigation into Kalamazoo College that had been ongoing since July 2014. According to the NCAA report, “This case centered on financial aid violations that occurred over five years as a result of the institution’s failure to remove athletics considerations from a matrix-rating system used for admissions and later in the packaging of financial aid.” The results of the investigation have left Kalamazoo College with a three probationary period and a three-year postseason ban. The college is currently in the process of appealing the ban.
The process of including athletics considerations in the packaging of financial aid has been a process that has been in place at Kalamazoo College for approximately 20 years according to Provost Mickey McDonald. However, the NCAA only looked at a period over the past five years for the investigation; finding that a total of 567 prospective student-athletes had athletics considered in their financial aid decisions.
Officially the investigation found three major violations. The first two violations were the inappropriate awarding of financial aid and ineffective monitoring processes. The third violation was a recruiting violation committed by head baseball coach Mike Ott, who sent out an email to recruits in his first season in charge suggesting he could influence financial aid decisions.
According to Athletic Director Kristen Smith, “The postseason play and conference championship bans are a result of the financial aid violation, and the sanctions and penalties for the third [Coach Ott’s] violation are administrative only in nature.” Smith says that in the time since the mistake occurred in Ott’s first season as coach, the College has begun providing better and more complete training to all coaches in that regard. Both Smith and McDonald have made sure to emphasize that this situation is not the fault of Coach Ott or any other one individual. They have repeatedly stated that this was an institutional policy that is at the root of the cause of the violations.
The College is appealing the postseason ban, and according to Smith they are “playing to win.” “I believe the ban is harsh. I don’t think it’s fair to punish student-athletes who had no involvement or knowledge of what occurred,” Smith said.
However, with this type of ban for these infractions, there is no previous track record to indicate how the appeal process will go. This is a whole new territory for the NCAA and Division III athletics.
If the appeal fails and the postseason ban is upheld, then the College will begin a process of repackaging financial aid. Because of the way the penalty is written if the College chooses to repackage student-athlete’s financial aid then it can make teams eligible to compete in the postseason once again.
“Repackaging would be looking at individual student’s financial aid and using an NCAA compliant methodology to determine how much they would receive under the NCAA compliant system,” McDonald said. He also said that the College will go through the process of determining who would be repackaged on a team by team basis during the month of April. “I think it’s a real holistic view of both the individual impact and the impact on the team. I think we’re trying to balance the institution priority of educational access and educational attainment of this great curricular experience with the excellence of the athletic experience.”
No matter how the appeal process ends up ruling, there have been many strong reactions to the NCAA rulings among the campus community.
“My only reaction was really shock,” said baseball Head Coach Mike Ott. “My biggest focus was on making sure our team and our families knew what was going on.”
Coach Ott is joined by many others within the athletic community on campus in experiencing shock. The entire student-athlete body attended an informational meeting with Kristen Smith and Mickey McDonald on Monday March 28th in the gymnasium to clear up some initial questions and concerns.
On top of the shock, many have expressed a sense of unfairness.
“There is a strong feeling that the ban is unfair in two respects, first this has never been done to another school and second these kids had nothing to do with this and are going to be penalized,” Ott said.
Ott is not alone in feeling that way. Junior basketball player Jake Whitney said, “Philosophical fairness is a terrible justification to the athletes affected by the school’s mistake.”
As the frustration continues to grow while waiting for the appeal process ruling, the coaches, players, and athletic administration will focus on their respective sports.
“I told the team that our best course of action is to win baseball games and do our job as well as we can,” Ott said. “Outside factors do not cause adversity as we have no control over them.”
Winning games and staying focused on their respective sports will be at the front of the minds of all the coaches and student-athletes in season right now. But in the back of their minds, many will be thinking hard about what happens if the appeal fails, what happens if my financial aid is affected, what happens next?