I’ve never really understood the concept of vacating wins. But it’s a popular punishment by some entities of sports authority, a way I suppose to inflict punishment without really inflicting punishment.
The NCAA is taking away some wins from Wichita State’s baseball program, and former coach Gene Stephenson, as a result of impermissible benefits violations from 2011-13. As many as 74 victories could be in jeopardy, though WSU was quick to announce it will appeal the NCAA’s decision to vacate wins. There are other penalties, including a $5,000 fine and a year of probation, which sounds worse than it is.
The biggest jolt here is the vacating of wins. They went poof because former baseball administrative assistant Shelley Wombacher was conducting a mini-version of Amazon.com inside the baseball office for a couple of years. WSU baseball rung up a bill of $7,594.18 in shoes, clothing, hunting gear and other non-athletics items that 21 baseball players ordered online from Under Armour using a 50-percent discount, the NCAA reported.
We all love a discount, but it’s improper for student-athletes to receive the kind of monetary perks that regular students who are sweating out a chemistry lab can’t.
WSU has been waiting nearly a year for the NCAA’s ruling and while the punishment does reach the “serious” level, according to the NCAA matrix (whatever that is), it’s not the end of the world.
This does, however, shine a light on how business was being conducted inside the Shocker baseball office, where an administrative assistant with a VIP account was allowed to go off pretty much on her own with little oversight.
The baseball office is inside Eck Stadium, removed from the athletic administration over at Koch Arena. It’s pretty far to walk, so Stephenson and his crew were mostly left alone. And while the NCAA made it clear that Stephenson ran a clean and even pristine program, the online purchasing frenzy is a black mark.
Stephenson, the NCAA ruling stated, did not agree with all of the NCAA’s findings and denied that he had failed to fulfill his responsibilities to monitor Wombacher.
During a conference call Thursday afternoon, Eleanor Myers, the chief hearing officer for the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions, seemed to diminish Stephenson’s awareness and involvement.
“He was at the school for a very long period of time, had a highly-compliant program during that period, never had a major violation,” Myers said. “This occurrence ... was something that went on over a period of time when he was not in the office as much as he once was.”
Wait, how does an NCAA officer in Myers’ position know the whereabouts of a baseball coach in Wichita?
“That evidence was presented by the coach in the hearing,” said Myers, referring to a November meeting at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis that included Stephenson, Wombacher, WSU president John Bardo, athletic director Eric Sexton, associate athletic director Korey Torgerson and current WSU baseball coach Todd Butler. “He did ask questions when it came to his attention and was assured by her that students were paying for the things they were ordering.”
The NCAA report states that from December 2011 through 2012 and into 2013, Stephenson dealt with a personal situation that resulted in him often being out of the office. Even at times he was present, he was often in his office with the door closed. As a result, as he said at the hearing, he “did not interact as much.”
Wherever Stephenson was, he should have been more hands-on with the activity of Wombacher, a long-time WSU employee who was reassigned after the NCAA violations were uncovered. Wombacher no longer works at WSU.
It was Butler who discovered the wrongdoing after becoming the Shockers’ coach in June 2013, replacing Stephenson after the legendary WSU coach racked up 1,837 wins in 36 years. Butler notified Sexton and WSU reported the violations to the NCAA.
Bardo announced in a statement the decision by WSU to appeal the NCAA’s decision to vacate wins, saying the fine, probation and suspension of eight players from three to nine games last season was punishment enough.
“The student-athletes involved acted without guilty knowledge,” Bardo said in a news release. “It seems unfair to permanently tarnish the records they achieved as a team.”
I think I’m with Bardo on this one. Vacating wins is such a sticky wicket. You can’t just pretend they didn’t happen and everything Myers said Thursday seemed to cushion Stephenson’s involvement.
Wombacher no longer worked in the baseball office after this situation. Stephenson had already been fired. The players who were involved served suspensions.
Vacating wins seems like overkill.
Winningest four-year coaches
1. Auggie Garrido
2. Gene Stephenson
3. Mike Martin
4. Mark Marquess
5. Larry Hays
Note: Does not include wins to be vacated by Stephenson and Wichita State.