Infractions: Rule Violations, Unethical Conduct, and Enforcement in the NCAA

Infractions: Rule Violations, Unethical Conduct, and Enforcement in the NCAA

by Jerry Parkinson
Infractions: Rule Violations, Unethical Conduct, and Enforcement in the NCAA

Infractions: Rule Violations, Unethical Conduct, and Enforcement in the NCAA

by Jerry Parkinson


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Jerry Parkinson spent nearly ten years, from 2000 to 2010, as a member of the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions, participating in over one hundred major infractions cases. He came away from that experience—and the experience of reading extensive commentary on infractions cases—with the conviction that most observers do not understand the NCAA’s rules-enforcement process, despite the amount of public attention many major cases receive.

Parkinson uses his insider’s perspective, along with illustrative stories, to help readers understand how the NCAA’s rules-enforcement process really works. These stories include: a university board of trustees chair committing suicide over an infractions case; a pay-for-play scandal leading directly to the state’s governor; a head coach falsely portraying a deceased player as a drug dealer to cover up the coach’s own misconduct; a gambler laundering his money by making the largest booster payments in NCAA history; and a coach’s sexual abuse of children leading to some of the harshest sanctions ever imposed by the NCAA. Based on years of experience and infused with insight, Parkinson provides a broad view of the world of NCAA rule breakers and the NCAA rules-enforcement process.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496216922
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 09/01/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 368
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

​Jerry Parkinson is a retired dean and former William T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the University of Wyoming College of Law. He spent nearly ten years as a member of the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions, participating in the review of more than one hundred cases of major rules infractions.

Read an Excerpt


The Fallout

Nose in but fingers out.

— Bill Swan

The kid could play ball. He was six feet eight, a force in the paint as a junior college center, and a fearsome shot blocker. From all indications, this was a guy who could make the transition from junior college to Division I ball. Consequently, several D1 schools took a serious look at him ... until they discovered the problem.

NCAA bylaws permit student athletes from two-year colleges to transfer to NCAA Division I institutions and become immediately eligible to compete if they "receive an associate or equivalent degree in an academic or technical, rather than a vocational, curriculum." This particular prospect attended Coastal Georgia Community College and was enrolled in the junior college's welding-technology curriculum. That curriculum, described in the junior college's course catalog as vocational, led to a certificate of welding.

One can imagine the one-minute conversations occurring in spring 2002 on several college campuses around the country:

Coach: We have a strong juco prospect out of Georgia — can shoot, rebound, block shots; runs the floor well; 6'8" but plays even bigger than that. Problem is, he's going to get a certificate of welding.

Director of athletics: A what?

Coach: A welding certificate.

Director of athletics: Nice try, Coach. Come back when you have a real prospect.

St. Bonaventure, however, was undeterred. The men's basketball coaching staff had had its eye on this kid since January, and he was the real deal. They invited him to make an official recruiting visit to the campus in upstate New York in early April, and shortly afterward, he signed a National Letter of Intent to play ball for the Bonnies.

Yes, there was some concern about the student athlete's eligibility. The university's senior woman athletics administrator, who had oversight responsibility for rules compliance, sent an email to the Atlantic 10 Conference's assistant commissioner for compliance, seeking a definition of a degree that was "equivalent" to an associate degree. The Atlantic 10 representative responded that the two-year college awarding the degree must consider it to be equivalent to an associate degree. Thus, exercising due diligence, the university's assistant athletics director for student services and compliance, at the direction of athletics director Gothard Lane, faxed a letter to the registrar at Coastal Georgia, asking for an interpretation of the certificate in welding. The registrar responded promptly with a letter explaining that "the certificate programs are not considered equivalents to the associate's degree program."

End of discussion. Lane delivered the bad news to the head coach of the men's basketball team, Jan van Breda Kolff: sorry, the kid is ineligible. But van Breda Kolff wanted him ... and he had an ace in the hole.

Robert Wickenheiser was president of St. Bonaventure. He was also a big basketball fan and, just the year before, had strongly supported the hiring of van Breda Kolff as head coach at St. Bonaventure. The hiring was considered a coup: van Breda Kolff not only had had a successful professional career as a player, but he also came with a superb bloodline as the son of former college and NBA coaching great Butch van Breda Kolff. Jan was coming off a 47-18 two-year record at Pepperdine, after successful head coaching stints at Vanderbilt and Cornell. His hiring would elevate the profile of St. Bonaventure instantly. Naturally, Wickenheiser would be inclined to support van Breda Kolff's efforts to bring St. Bonaventure back to national prominence. (The university made it to the Final Four in 1970, led by future Hall of Famer Bob Lanier.) This would be a particularly natural instinct for the president since van Breda Kolff, shortly after his hiring, named Kort Wickenheiser, the president's son, as an assistant coach.

So when van Breda Kolff received the bad news from his athletics director, he knew it was not the end of the story. He spoke to Kort, who relayed to his father van Breda Kolff's concerns about declaring the student athlete ineligible. Next came a meeting with President Wickenheiser, Director Lane, and Coach van Breda Kolff. Lane reiterated his position that the student athlete was ineligible, citing the letter from the Coastal Georgia registrar. Wickenheiser, of course, had the last word. Not only was he the boss, but NCAA bylaws also make presidents and chancellors ultimately responsible for intercollegiate athletics at their institutions. The meeting ended with the president's declaration that the student athlete was eligible, based on Wickenheiser's personal assessment that the student athlete had earned a technical, rather than vocational, degree.

Lane was determined that this would not be the end of the story. In June he expressed his concern about the student athlete's eligibility to James Gould, chair of the university board of trustees' athletics committee. Gould suggested that Lane reiterate his concerns to President Wickenheiser in writing. Lane did just that, in a very direct email message to the president:

I believe we have a problem. ... The more I think about the student-athlete's eligibility situation the more I am convinced that we cannot unilaterally declare him eligible. ... [The junior college] has stated that under their academic structure his "Certificate" is not equivalent to an associate's degree. In my opinion, if we declare him eligible, we leave ourselves open to a possible NCAA violation. I do not believe that we can ignore their institutional stance without putting ourselves into possible jeopardy. ... I do not believe that we can declare him eligible without taking a major risk. ... In my opinion we have to either "red shirt" [the student athlete] or petition the NCAA for a review of his status. Why do we want to put ourselves into a situation where we can be challenged at any time during the next two years about this and not be able to truly justify our position in relation to NCAA rules?

Lane's logic seemed irrefutable, but Wickenheiser was not deterred. He responded with a lengthy email laying out an argument that the student athlete was eligible — an argument, as it turns out, that was drafted two days earlier by his son Kort. At a subsequent face-to-face meeting, the president informed Lane that he was growing weary of Lane's objections and that Lane "needed to accept" the president's decision.

At significant personal risk, Lane again contacted Gould, the university trustee who chaired the athletics committee, to express his concern about President Wickenheiser's decision. Gould said he would discuss the matter with Bill Swan, the chairman of the board of trustees. According to Swan's account,

Lane, still with some reservations about the athlete's eligibility, raised the issue casually with James Gould, ... who in turn discussed it with me in a very brief conversation. Gould showed me Wickenheiser's email, and we concluded that the university's chief executive had investigated the matter and had reached what seemed a well-reasoned position.

We had confidence in the president and, based on the information presented, believed it would be inappropriate for trustees to become further involved in an administrative matter.

Swan said that he "had long adhered to the policy of keeping one's 'nose in but fingers out' when it comes to board involvement in day-today university operations." He therefore informed Lane that Wickenheiser's decision would stand, noting that the president would be "accountable" if it turned out he was wrong. Seeing no reason to pursue the matter further, Lane signed the student athlete's eligibility certification form. The student athlete competed on the men's basketball team during most of the 2002–3 season.

Most of the 2002–3 season. In mid-February 2003 the board of trustees learned of another problem involving the student athlete. He had been informed in December by Kort Wickenheiser that he was being withdrawn involuntarily, by the basketball coaching staff, from one of his fall courses due to poor academic performance. The student athlete was upset by this decision, because he believed he was capable of doing well on the final exam and could pass the course; nonetheless, he acceded to the coach's request that he not take the final exam.

Unfortunately, that did not solve the problem. University policy established a deadline of November 15 as the last date on which students could withdraw from fall courses. The student athlete's withdrawal in December was well beyond the deadline, which triggered a very undesirable consequence. If the student athlete could not withdraw, the only way he could avoid a failing grade would be to take an incomplete in the course. That course of action, however, would place the student athlete into the university's Academic Restoration Program, which, under institutional policy, would prevent him from traveling with the basketball team to away games during the spring 2003 semester.

When the student athlete failed to take the final exam, the course instructor gave him a grade of incomplete. The men's basketball coaching staff was unwilling to lose the student athlete for away games, so Kort Wickenheiser asked his father to intervene. President Wickenheiser spoke with the vice president for academic affairs, who agreed to change the student athlete's grade from an incomplete to a withdrawal.

The day would have been saved but for the pesky Lane, who reported what had happened to James Gould, the trustee who remained chair of the board's athletics committee. Gould passed along this new information to other members of the board. Under pressure from the board, President Wickenheiser directed Lane, at long last, to report the student athlete's eligibility issues to the Atlantic 10 Conference office. Conference officials then referred the matter to the NCAA, which concluded on February 27, 2003, that the student athlete had never been eligible to compete.

The fallout was swift. On March 3 the university announced that it was forfeiting six conference victories that season. The same day, the members of the Atlantic 10 Conference voted to disqualify St. Bonaventure from the conference's postseason tournament. In protest, the remaining members of the men's basketball team announced on March 4 that they would boycott the remainder of the season. The university informed conference officials that it would not play its remaining two regular-season games.

Five days later, on Sunday, March 9, the board of trustees held an emergency meeting that lasted nearly seven hours. Following the meeting, the board asked for and received President Wickenheiser's resignation and placed Kort Wickenheiser, Director Lane, and Coach van Breda Kolff on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into the basketball program. The board appointed a special review committee to investigate and report back to the board. The committee submitted its report to the board on April 16, with findings that led to the resignations of Lane and Kort Wickenheiser and the firing of van Breda Kolff. Van Breda Kolff claimed that he was unaware of any discussions about the athlete's eligibility status after the meeting in which President Wickenheiser declared him eligible. He later sued the university for wrongful termination and reached a settlement in 2005.

If that were the end of the story, the case would be remarkable enough. As the NCAACommittee on Infractions later stated in its public report (from which most of the facts are derived), the "devastating" consequences "ruined careers and rocked the foundation of a venerable and well-respected ... institution." Indeed, the penalties ultimately imposed by the committee, in February 2004, seem almost inconsequential, even though they included a three-year probationary period, a one-year ban on postseason competition, significant scholarship and recruiting restrictions, a vacation of records, and a financial penalty.

The last chapter of the story is the most devastating and tragic of them all — and not mentioned in the infractions report. The special review committee report in April 2003 included references to Lane's communications with board member Gould — and Gould's communications with Swan — back in June 2002, when the eligibility concerns first surfaced. After reading the report, St. Bonaventure supporters wondered aloud why Gould and Swan did not step in to question President Wickenheiser's initial decision to declare the student athlete initially eligible based on his welding certificate. A sports columnist for the Buffalo News called for Swan's resignation from the board.

Swan, by all accounts, was the consummate St. Bonaventure backer, dating back to his time as a student, when he proudly served as "the Brown Indian," the athletics mascot until 1992 (surely a story in itself). After graduating from college, he remained in the Buffalo area, roughly an hour from St. Bonaventure, where he had a very successful career in banking, becoming president and CEO of First Niagra Financial Group. More than anything, Swan loved St. Bonaventure and its Franciscan values. He relished his role as chairman of its board of trustees.

The public criticism of Swan's inaction in June 2002 took its toll on this man who had dedicated much of his life to the betterment of his alma mater. Yet the criticism subsided by summer, and in June 2003 Swan was reelected board chair. Swan and the university seemed poised to move forward, leaving the scandal behind ... until Swan decided to write an article for Trusteeship, the magazine of the Association of Governing Boards, which supports boards of trustees at American universities. The article was titled "The Real March Madness: Anatomy of an Athletics Scandal," and it chronicled both the scandal and the board of trustees' response. Who knows who came up with the subtitle and tagline —"After a basketball recruiting violation made national headlines, the board of St. Bonaventure University came up big"— but in retrospect, it probably was not the best choice of words. Nor was the article's timing, published in the July–August 2003 issue, when the wounds were still wide open.

Bill Swan stated early in the article that he did not mean "to engage in institutional self-congratulation but to drive home a point: Appropriate, decisive, and substantive actions by boards of trustees can place an institution back on track after it faces a momentous challenge to its integrity, reputation, and existence." His point is on the mark; unfortunately, the tone of the article was too self-congratulatory for many St. Bonaventure supporters who viewed Swan's actions at the outset of the scandal as inappropriate, indecisive, and lacking substance.

Publication of the Trusteeship article led to vicious social media attacks, including one in mid-August reported by his wife Ann: "Every time Bill Swan opens his mouth, he hangs himself." The following week, on August 20, 2003, Bill Swan ended his life at the age of fifty-five by hanging himself in the basement of his home. He left a suicide note: "I am so sorry for the pain I have caused St. Bonaventure University, my family, friends, my colleagues at First Niagra and my beloved wife, Ann."

I begin with the St. Bonaventure case because I am often asked about the worst infractions cases I've seen. This one always comes to mind first — not because of the nature or scope of the violations but because of the human tragedy that could have been averted at so many points along the way. Plenty of infractions cases result in damaged careers or weakened athletic programs, but rarely do rule violations have deadly consequences. The fallout, in my mind, is what defines a truly horrendous case, and in no case has the fallout been more tragic than at St. Bonaventure.

The case also highlights core issues at the heart of institutional governance and responsibility. As noted earlier, NCAA bylaws make university presidents and chancellors ultimately responsible for the conduct of intercollegiate athletics at their institutions. At every major infractions hearing, the president is expected to be sitting in the first chair of the university delegation. Typically that president begins and ends the testimony in the hearing by delivering opening and closing statements.

So we want university presidents overseeing athletics programs on their campuses. What we do not want are university presidents becoming so close to those programs that they lose the perspective and reasoned judgment of a leader. Clearly, President Wickenheiser had no business overruling his director of athletics in determining the initial eligibility of the basketball prospect, particularly when his son was a member of the coaching staff.

To his credit, President Wickenheiser accepted full responsibility, noting that he "gave in because [Coach van Breda Kolff] wanted the student-athlete." He also acknowledged a "fractured relationship between the men's basketball coaching staff and the athletics administration." But by stepping in as he did, Wickenheiser exacerbated that fractured relationship by permitting the coaches to bypass the chain of command.


Excerpted from "Infractions"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Jerry Parkinson.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. The Fallout
2. Hangin’ Offenses
3. Unethical Conduct
4. The Infractions
5. Parasites
6. The Rats You Are
7. Cooperation
8. The Investigators
9. The Committee
10. Student Athletes?
11. The Extent of NCAA Authority

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