Wichita State starts baseball practice on Jan. 24 and plays its first game on Feb. 14. Coach Todd Butler is planning at a disadvantage for the season’s early weeks because of looming suspensions from the NCAA’s investigation into improper clothing and apparel benefits.
Athletic director Eric Sexton said his department is working on the report to the NCAA with Overland Park law firm Bond, Schoeneck and King. The law firm communicates with the NCAA as it is compiling information for the report. WSU self-reported the violations and announced an internal review in early December after Butler discovered issues with players buying Under Armour products at 50 percent off last fall.
Sexton’s hope is that the NCAA will rule on penalties before the season starts. If not, WSU could self-impose suspensions with the hope that the NCAA will consider those as time served.
"We are probably in the seventh inning, eighth inning, of the investigation," Sexton said. "We’re very close to getting things wrapped up to where we would be able to know where we are at."
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Butler declined to comment.
While Sexton would not be specific about the number of players involved, sources said as many as 11 players could be penalized with most coming from the pitching staff. Suspensions could range from six to 18 games. Athletes may also have to pay for their purchases. 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.
WSU would likely stagger the suspensions throughout the early weeks of the season, with the goal to have a full team by the time Missouri Valley Conference play begins on March 21. The Shockers open the season at home against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Feb. 14 and play 21 non-conference games before MVC play.
Sexton regards it as a good sign that the NCAA has not sent investigators to campus. By self-reporting and cooperating with the NCAA, Wichita State may receive leniency.
"That’s been typically the case," he said. "I would commend Coach Butler and the staff for identifying it and bringing it forward. That’s the culture of integrity we want to be about. As soon as they identified something they had a question about, they brought it forward."
WSU baseball players purchased non-baseball gear, such as hunting equipment, at a discount through an Under Armour account administered by former baseball administrative assistant Shelley Wombacher. Wombacher, according to her lawyer, did not know the practice was prohibited by the NCAA. Wombacher, Sexton said, remains employed by the university, but no longer works in the baseball office.
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.