NCAA penalizes EC for awarding athletic scholarships, places school on probation

The 2012 EC football team celebrates their CCIW conference championship win by ringing the bell at Langhorst field, their championship win is now forfeited as a result of EC’s financial aid infractions.  Internet photo

The 2012 EC football team celebrates their CCIW conference championship win by ringing the bell at Langhorst field, their championship win is now forfeited as a result of EC’s financial aid infractions.  Internet photo

by Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor

Follow him at @ColeSheeks

After an investigation determined that the school illegally awarded athletic scholarships to 26 different students over a four year period, EC was punished by the NCAA on Oct. 27 and placed on probation.

The college is claiming it was an “unfortunate clerical error,” however, it admitted fault in committing major violations of NCAA legislation when it awarded five institutional scholarships to athletes on 42 different occasions beginning during the 2012-2013 school year.

Three of the scholarships included athletic based criteria while the other two were awarded by the director of financial aid under the impression that they were in fact athletic scholarships.

Upon receiving that aid, all of those players were ineligible to compete at the Division III level, as schools at that level are restricted from awarding scholarships based on athletics.

EC established two initial athletic scholarships in 2013 and 2014. The first scholarship was created for athletes interested in the medical field, while the second scholarship was intended for football players.

A third athletic based scholarship was created for members of the wrestling team.

According to the NCAA report, “institutional personnel knew that athletic criteria could not be considered when awarding financial aid, but established the scholarships and awarded the aid regardless.”

Paul Krohn, the school’s athletic director, declined to comment on the matter and directed any requests to administration.

Julie Hall, assistant athletic director and head volleyball coach, also declined to comment, citing a need to focus on the ongoing volleyball season.

EC President Troy VanAken made it clear that the school had no intent when creating the athletic scholarships, mentioning that the language of the scholarship agreements was written in 1965, “back when the NCAA wasn’t engineered the way it is now.”

“Where we had an administrative let down was [when] we cut and pasted that problematic language into future scholarship agreements,” continued VanAken.

VanAken went on to add that this was not a tactical maneuver by the school, rather, it was simply an, “unfortunate clerical error.”

In 2014, EC received a warning from the NCAA that said the school may have had issues regarding financial aid rules compliance, yet EC took no action and violations continued.

“The [warning] letter came to the president’s office. The president’s office was in transition at that time,” said VanAken. 

The president in 2014 was Dr. S. Alan Ray, who was succeeded by interim president Dr. Larry A. Braskamp before VanAken eventually took over in June of 2016.

“A lot of things were going on at that time and yeah ... had we got on it at that time, we would be talking about something else, but we didn’t.” said VanAken.

The NCAA report goes on to mention that the school awarded roughly $126,216 of impermissible financial aid to 26 players across 10 sports.

According to a campus wide email from VanAken, the 10 sports found in violation of NCAA rules were men’s cross country, men’s track and field, football, men’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, wrestling, women’s basketball, women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, and volleyball.

As a result of these actions, the school will face a number of penalties from the NCAA, including vacated wins and records, two years of probation and a $2,500 fine.

VanAken’s email goes on to mention that, “no coaches or athletic staff were involved in any way,” and that, “none of the 26 students was aware that they had received impermissible aid.”

The NCAA report mentions that the director of financial aid felt “pressure” from an EC development staff to award the scholarships.

“We don’t know exactly what that means, when a term is used like ‘pressure’ said Desiree Chen, senior director of communications and external relations. “What we do know is that it was a period of leadership transition and so obviously the financial aid director did not receive the kind of support that was needed to know that what was happening was wrong.”

“I wasn’t here then,” said VanAken, reiterating Chen’s remarks. “We don’t know what specifically took place.”

The report suggests that the development staff’s intentions were to follow “wishes” of the scholarship donors in order to, “award competitive financial aid packages, which would increase enrollment and help realize ‘real dollars’ for the institution.”

EC administration declined to identify any members of the development staff.

The director of financial aid, who EC administration also declined to identify, failed to report that pressure to her supervisor and the NCAA reports that, “she alone was responsible for making the awards that resulted in the violations.”

VanAken noted that EC has been compliant with NCAA rules for the past two financial aid award periods.

“What we can assure you is that today, both last year and this year, people are doing their jobs according to NCAA guidelines and what we’re wanting to see done here at the institution.”