ECU Provost Marilyn Sheerer addresses members of media during a press conference held May 19 to announce ECU's acceptance of NCAA penalties for self-reported academic fraud violations. She said ECU responded quickly and took decisive action as soon as the violations became apparent. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

ECU accepts NCAA penalties for self-reported violations

By Mary Schulken

ECU Director of Public Affairs

East Carolina University announced today it has accepted athletic program penalties imposed by the NCAA for self-reported academic fraud violations in 2010, including a reprimand and one year of probation.

“ECU is embarrassed by the unacceptable academic fraud committed by a few student athletes who acted on their own volition,” said Chancellor Steve Ballard.  “We have implemented numerous corrective actions and we will continually improve our practices with the intention of being one of the best universities in terms of academic integrity and compliance.”

The terms of probation do not prohibit postseason play in any sport. No recruiting sanctions, scholarship reductions or monetary penalties were imposed.

In spring of last year ECU investigated and reported to the NCAA academic fraud violations by athletes on the baseball and women’s tennis teams. The NCAA news release, posted on its website Thursday, May 19, stated the violations involved four baseball student-athletes and one women’s tennis student-athlete. While working as an academic tutor in the athletics department, the involved women’s tennis player wrote papers for the four baseball players, who submitted the work as their own, the NCAA stated.

The release said the academic fraud included writing a paper for two of the student-athletes, eight papers for another plus a PowerPoint presentation for a fourth student-athlete.

The NCAA accepted ECU’s investigation of the violations and its findings rather than conducting its own inquiry. In its letter informing ECU of the penalties, the NCAA noted it chose to reduce the term of probation from two years to one because of ECU’s response and because of immediate steps the university took to improve compliance.

Those practices include:
  • Hiring an additional senior compliance officer. Jamie Johnson, formerly of Rutgers University, began work in February. Johnson reports directly to the chancellor.
  • Student-athletes are no longer hired as tutors in the Student Development Office within the athletics department.
  • The Division of Academic Affairs, not athletics, oversees the Student Development Office.
  • More rigorous training for tutors, and student-athletes, that clearly defines behaviors that constitute academic fraud and violations of academic integrity. The consequences of such violations are explicitly spelled out.
ECU, its coaches and its employees did the right thing at a difficult moment, Provost Marilyn Sheerer said at a press conference.

“The record shows we responded quickly, investigated vigorously, immediately self-reported violations and took decisive corrective steps without being asked,” Sheerer said.

“We have great confidence in baseball coach Billy Godwin and women’s tennis coach Tom Morris and in the integrity of the programs,” Sheerer said.

Terry Holland, ECU director of athletics, said, “This has been a traumatic event for our athletic program that has negatively impacted the lives of young student-athletes and embarrassed us all. While the athletics department’s response was immediate and appropriate, as recognized by the NCAA, it is critically important that the safeguards and guidelines implemented to educate our student-athletes are sufficient to prevent future problems.”

Conference USA gave ECU a vote of confidence.

“We are pleased with the way this difficult situation was managed,” said Britton Banowsky, C-USA commissioner. “The university took swift and decisive action to not only address the immediate issue, but put safeguards in place to prevent it from happening again. Their response was excellent.”

Chancellor Ballard chairs a special UNC Task Force on Athletics and Academics examining ways to strengthen athletic programs and ensure the academic success of student athletes. The Task Force is set to make recommendations this summer.

The terms of probation for ECU require the baseball team to vacate 17 games in which the athletes participated while ineligible. The women’s tennis team will vacate eight matches. ECU will be required during the year to notify all baseball and women’s tennis prospects that the school is on probation. It also must provide a compliance report to the committee on infractions. And, it must file a letter from the chancellor at the end of the probation period affirming that athletics policies and procedures conform to NCAA regulations.

The NCAA news release and infractions report are available on its web site, http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/ncaa/enforcement/resources/resources+homepage.