Huntington, Ind.—The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics has placed the Huntington University men’s basketball and baseball teams on probation and has issued a warning to the entire Forester Athletics Department. The penalties are for violations of NAIA policies governing gifts to student-athletes.
University President Dr. G. Blair Dowden said, “Although this is not the outcome that we would have wanted, I am very committed to ensuring that we respond appropriately as a Christ-centered institution.”
“We continually strive for the highest standards of financial integrity with all our athletic programs,” Dowden added. “Our athletes work hard to achieve success in competition, and the University highly values the integrity of the athletic programs and the character of our student-athletes. No one at the University would intentionally compromise the integrity of our programs.”
A letter received by Dr. Dowden from the NAIA National Conduct and Ethics Committee indicates that the University’s entire Athletics Department is placed on warning status for the 2007-2008 school year. According to NAIA guidelines, “A warning is an institutional notification that a violation has occurred and a notification that future violations will lead to stronger penalties.” The letter also requires that Huntington University submit the materials and policies that are used to educate athletes, coaches and boosters about NAIA guidelines to the Mid-Central College Conference and to the NAIA National Office by Oct.12.
The letter also indicates that Huntington’s baseball program will be on probation for the 2007-2008 academic year, and that the University’s men’s basketball program will be on probation for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 academic years. While probation will not deny the Foresters an opportunity to participate in postseason competitions, it is a warning that any additional violations during the probationary period may lead to suspension from postseason play.
The penalties stem from impermissible gifts given to student-athletes. Allegations of rules violations were made in February 2007, prompting President Dowden to appoint an internal investigation committee. Dr. Norris Friesen, vice president and dean, chaired the committee, assisted by Dr. Ann McPherren, vice president for university strategy and planning, and Dr. Win Wetherbee, professor of mathematics and Faculty Athletics Representative.
The investigation centered on alleged violations of policies governing booster support for athletes and teams. The NAIA rules are broad, stating that “supporting organizations or individuals cannot give any financial assistance, in kind or in money, to any prospective or current student-athlete nor to the student's family or relatives.”
Coaches, trainers, student-athletes, and team supporters were interviewed by the committee, and detailed financial records were reviewed. The University submitted its findings to the NAIA in March and responded to additional questions in April.
While the committee found no evidence to support some of the allegations, the investigative committee did identify specific cases in which violations of NAIA policy had occurred, particularly concerning in-kind gifts to student-athletes and teams. The University’s report to the NAIA indicated that impermissible gifts of clothing, groceries, meals, and gift cards had been given to athletic teams or individual student-athletes directly, rather than being properly channeled through the University’s normal accounting process.
In its report to the NAIA last spring, the University’s investigation committee stated:
“Huntington University regrets this situation and the lack of appropriate administrative oversight. We acknowledge that we are wrong on several counts and are willing to accept responsibility for our actions. We recognize that we were not prepared for the kind of attention men’s basketball and baseball have received in the last few years and did a poor job of managing it.”
The University has adopted a six-part plan to address these issues, strengthen the financial accounting of gifts-in-kind, and educate coaches and student-athletes about NAIA policies. Action steps include:
Providing coaches and students with clear guidelines governing relationships with athletic boosters.
Developing mandatory annual seminars to review these guidelines with students and coaches.
Properly channeling all monetary and in-kind gifts to athletic teams through the University Advancement Office for proper management, accounting, and acknowledgement.
Communicating clearly with athletic boosters concerning NAIA policies and University expectations.
Planning external audits of the Athletics Department, just as the University has for other administrative units. These audits will review athletics programs, resources, administration, and financial records every five years. The first such audit is being planned for the current academic year.
Working with the NAIA national office to clarify guidelines governing booster support and strengthening the review process.
“This plan has my full support and the support of the Board of Trustees,” said President Dowden. “As we move forward, we will continue to strive for the highest standards of financial integrity with all our athletic programs. I have full confidence in our athletes and coaches, and I am assured that these mistakes will not recur.”
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