Ice Knights hit with postseason ban

The Geneseo men's ice hockey program has been banned from postseason play for this year and a women's tennis player's season has come to a close as the result of several NCAA sanctions against the athletics program stemming from a major violation of Division III financial aid rules.

The NCAA ruling, which was announced Thursday, Jan. 28, found that between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 academic years, a disproportionate number of institutionally administered grants - specifically, grants from the Canadian Student Initiative (CSI) scholarship program - were awarded to student-athletes when compared to the rest of the student body. Almost all recipients played ice hockey.

During the 2007-08 academic year, 100 percent of the CSI grants were awarded to student-athletes. In 2008-09, 17 of 19 grant recipients participated in intercollegiate athletics. Currently, nine members of the ice hockey team and one member of the women's tennis team - sophomore Olga Dimic - receive CSI grants.

Because the men's hockey team has already been penalized through the banning of postseason play, the affected players are permitted to keep their grants for the remainder of the academic year. Dimic, however, was forced to choose between staying as a member of the team for the spring season, which would prohibit the program from going to nationals, or withdrawing from the team and allowing the program to participate in the postseason.

Dimic chose to withdraw from the team to allow her teammates the opportunity to play at nationals. "I already told [Geneseo Athletic Director] Marilyn [Moore] that I won't be playing," Dimic said. "I don't want to stop our team from doing well."

Dimic was the only international player on the women's tennis team. Her withdrawal leaves her unable to practice with her teammates for the remainder of the year, likely unable to go with the team to their spring break tournament in Orlando, Fl. - for which she has already bought a plane ticket - and forces her to decide between continuing the CSI aid program as a non-athlete next year, or forfeiting the aid and rejoining the tennis team.

The nine ice hockey players receiving the grant, all of whom are of sophomore or junior standing, face the same dilemma as Dimic entering the 2010-11 academic year.

The CSI grants, which are non-need-based, were first made available in 2001 as part of a SUNY-wide effort to augment international enrollment. Recipients of the grant had their tuition effectively lowered to the in-state level and were awarded a room scholarship if they lived on campus.

As part of the corrective measures outlined in the ruling, Geneseo discontinued the CSI program for all incoming students, starting with the 2009-10 academic year. The college will maintain its commitment to non-student-athletes already receiving the grant for the remainder of their time at Geneseo as the program is phased out.

"We're going to get rid of [the CSI program]. What's the point?" Moore said. "We're not going to go through this again."

In addition, Geneseo's athletics program has been placed on probation for two years. The case was resolved using the summary disposition process, in which the college submits the case in written form to the NCAA Committee on Infractions, until the NCAA enforcement staff and the college reach an agreement regarding the facts of the case and the sanctions to be imposed. Both the two-year probationary period and the discontinuation of the CSI scholarship program were self-imposed sanctions by Geneseo.

Said Geneseo President Christopher Dahl of the ultimate sanctions: "They are appropriate because we agreed to them with the NCAA. I can tell you that at every point, however, we pushed back because we were concerned with the interests of our athletes."

The NCAA Committee on Infractions' public infractions report determined that no one at Geneseo deliberately violated NCAA rules, but that the disparity of grants constituted an infraction anyway.

"Though there was no indication that anyone in the institution's department of athletics or administration intended to circumvent NCAA rules, the disproportionate awarding of the grants to student-athletes resulted in more than a minimal competitive advantage to the institution's athletics program," the report stated.

The ruling marked the first major violation in the history of Geneseo athletics. Dahl said that he intends for it to be the last.

"Our big goal, of course, is never, ever to see a major infraction again in the history of the college, especially during the two-year period of probation," Dahl said. "We'll check, we'll double-check, we'll triple-check, we'll compare data and we'll watch the proportionality issue carefully and make sure that the data itself is absolutely, totally accurate."

Dahl has tasked Kenneth H. Levison, vice president for finance and administration, with reviewing all financial aid data pertaining to athletics and checking it against NCAA Division III regulations, to ensure that the college meets all guidelines moving forward.

Geneseo was not the only SUNYAC member to be hit with NCAA sanctions last Thursday. Buffalo State's men's and women's ice hockey programs had nearly identical sanctions imposed as a result of a major financial aid violation concerning the same CSI aid program. Both the men's and women's teams from Buffalo State have been banned from postseason play this year.

The rulings against Buffalo State and Geneseo are "first look" cases for the NCAA in its enforcement of a 2005 amendment to a financial aid bylaw, as they were the first two schools to be found in violation. The bylaw essentially calls for institutionally administered grants to be evenly distributed in accordance with the percentage of student-athletes within the student body.

"This is a wake-up call to the college," Dahl said. "It's also a wake-up call to all Division III programs that have Canadian Student Initiatives."