Eight Wichita State baseball players will miss games as the result of an NCAA investigation into improper apparel benefits.
The NCAA notified WSU of the penalties on Friday morning, four hours before its opening game of the season. Coach Todd Butler immediately began serving the suspensions by keeping junior catcher Tyler Baker and senior infielders Erik Harbutz and Dayne Parker out of the lineup.
WSU’s pitching staff is hit the hardest. Cale Elam, who started Friday’s game against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, will miss six games. Starters Kris Gardner and relievers Drew Palmer and Foster Vielock will miss nine. Starter Garrett Brummett will miss three. Harbutz and Parker will also miss nine. Eight players who ordered less than $100 of merchandise paid back the money.
Butler described a sense of relief after weeks of waiting. WSU announced the investigation in early December. The violations involved an Under Armour accounted administered by the program’s former administrative assistant. Players ordered non-baseball items, such as hunting gear, at as much as a 50-percent discount, a violation of NCAA rules.
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“It’s unfortunate, but I am pleased,” he said. “The administration did a fantastic job of getting all the information to supply to the NCAA, hours and hours of tireless work. Today, game day, of course … by 11 a.m. we came to the conclusion of what we’re looking at.”
The NCAA gave WSU a 50-percent reduction in penalties because it self-reported and because of mitigating factors, athletic director Eric Sexton said. According to NCAA rules, athletes who receive an improper benefit of $100-$400 could miss 10 percent of their season. The penalty grows to 20 percent for $400-$700 and 30 percent for more than $700. The NCAA baseball season is 56 games.
While Friday’s news means the reinstatement phase of the investigation is complete, the NCAA will continue looking into the matter before making a final report.
“We feel the outcome is fair,” Sexton said in a news release. “We have been working cooperatively with the NCAA national office since we first discovered that we had potential eligibility issues. Now that those issues appear to be resolved, we will continue to work with the NCAA in bringing any remaining issues related to this situation to resolution.”
Butler is allowed to stagger the suspensions, especially important because of the number of pitchers involved. Elam, for example, pitched Friday and will likely miss six games before starting again. Brummett is scheduled to pitch Sunday. Baker will serve his three-game suspension this weekend.
“I thought it was going to be consecutive games, but it is a staggering process,” he said. “That gives us a little bit of relief and comfort from the NCAA. The position players, we’ll probably go consecutive games and try to get that out of the way. I’m going into the weekend thinking ‘We’re not going to use these guys.’ We’ll try to stick to that, but the games will dictate a lot.”
NCAA rules allow athletes to purchase items related to their sport. Under Armour supplies WSU’s baseball uniforms and other apparel. The violations were identified by the current coaching staff and brought to the attention of the administration during the transition in coaching staffs. Gene Stephenson was fired after 36 seasons on June 4. Butler was hired June 16. While the violations started at least two years ago, sources say Stephenson was unaware that athletes improperly ordered non-baseball gear.