• Sumo

By Ken Reed

The NCAA slapped little ol’ Cal Poly — a university known much more for its academic prowess than for any success in its athletic department — with heavy sanctions last week for unintentionally overpaying stipends to athletes for textbooks.

Cal Poly officials caught the administrative error and self-reported it to the NCAA. Apparently, a group of 72 athletes (out of 265) received more money than they should’ve for books and course-related supplies. The total amount of extra funds provided to the 72 students was a paltry $16,180 over nearly a three-year period, an average of $224.72 per athlete. (Cal Poly contends that only 30 athletes received an overpayment, for a total of $5,237.10, or an average of $174.57 per athlete).

In making their ruling, the NCAA said it was clearly an unintentional mistake but they also said “Cal Poly simply failed to abide by this rule.”

The result is Cal Poly could forfeit wins in all sports for a three-and-a-half-year period (including possibly the school’s only NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearance) and face two years of probation moving forward.

“Cal Poly has cooperated in every way with the NCAA throughout this process that began in 2015,” Cal Poly Athletic Director Don Oberhelman said in the statement. “There was never an intent to violate NCAA rules, and when we discovered the issue, we self-reported it to the NCAA.”

This latest strange action by the NCAA calls to mind the classic John McEnroe response: “You cannot be serious!”

Schools from the so-called “Power Five” conferences do things that are much more egregious (see North Carolina’s academic fraud for but one example) and they get a minor slap on the wrist or nothing at all.

“If we really think this was done to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace where Cal Poly was trying to distance itself from its competitors, I don’t believe that’s true,” said basketball analyst Jay Bilas.

… You have North Carolina, and they get nothing. And then Cal Poly is going to vacate every game they’ve played in three and half years? That’s ridiculous. It doesn’t remedy the situation. It doesn’t serve as a deterrent. It doesn’t send a message to other schools. It’s absurd.”

Absurd indeed.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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