By Eric N. Moore
Savannah State University's (SSU) move to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) has developed some complications.
The NCAA announced on June 20 that SSU has been placed on probation for failing to mmonitor the conduct and administration of its athletics program for the five year academic period 2013-14 to 2017-18. Specifically Savannah State did not monitor its certification process when it improperly certified 43 student-athletes in 10 sports, according to a Division I Committee on Infractions (COI) panel.
Despite the failure to monitor the certification process, the committee said most student-athletes were properly certified.
“As a fundamental obligation of NCAA membership, schools must ensure that all student-athletes are properly certified, both prior to participation in college athletics and on a continuing basis throughout their enrollment,” the committee said in its decision.
The COI and the university agreed that persistent turnover caused several breakdowns, such as not following written policies, inadequate communication and insufficient rules education. In its decision, the committee noted "all of these weaknesses combined to create a lack of checks and balances needed to ensure academic certification was complete and accurate.”
The committee used the Division I membership-approved infractions penalty guidelines for a Level II-standard case to prescribe the following penalties, most of which were self-imposed by the university:
- Two years of probation.
- A vacation of records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible. The university must provide a written report containing the contests impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 45 days of the public decision release.
- Each staff member responsible for certifying student-athletes must attend a Regional Rules Seminar once during the probation period.
A $5,000 fine (self-imposed by the university).
Being penalized for Division I infractions has impacted Savannah State's application for reclassification to Division II
In a July 12 press release, the NCAA announced that SSU's application was advanced to provisional year two of the two-year reclassification process from Division I.
The Division II membership committee did note significant concerns related to SSU's compliance program, "its recent major infractions case and probationary status in Division I, [brings into question] its overall readiness to be an active Division II member".
In advancing Savannah State, the committee agreed the school will be required to satisfy the standard requirements of provisional year two, which are more rigorous than those of year one. Further, the committee imposed additional requirements — such as increased rules education, presidential engagement and status updates to the committee throughout the year — and noted that the school may be required to repeat year two if progress is not made.
Much like the experience of the newest SIAC member Spring Hill College, Savannah State could have its reclassification application delayed, pushing their full membership in the SIAC back another year.