Wichita State will appeal the part of Thursday’s NCAA ruling that vacates a number of victories – possibly as many as 74 – by the university’s baseball program in 2012 and 2013, president John Bardo said.
An undetermined number of wins were directed by the NCAA to be vacated. Those wins would be in games where any of 21 ineligible Shocker players participated.
Wichita State has not yet completed an inventory of which games included the ineligible players. The Shockers won 74 games over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the time period in which the NCAA found that those players improperly received discounts on non-baseball merchandise from the program’s athletic apparel manufacturer. The inventory includes determining when the players in question received the improper discounts.
The NCAA’s ruling also includes one year of probation and a $5,000 fine.
The probation, proposed by WSU, does not affect eligibility for championships or scholarships and expires in January 2016.
“We believe that the penalties of the one-year probation … the $5,000 fine and the player suspensions that are already completed are appropriate,” WSU president John Bardo said in a news release.
WSU’s 2013 appearance in the NCAA Tournament – two losses and no victories – will be vacated. The victories using ineligible players, perhaps as many as 74 from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, will also be wiped away from former coach Gene Stephenson’s career wins total. WSU, if the appeal is denied, must change career statistics for the ineligible athletes. WSU has until Feb. 13 to appeal.
“The student-athletes involved acted without guilty knowledge,” Bardo said in the news release. “It seems unfair to permanently tarnish the records they achieved as a team.”
WSU athletic director Eric Sexton declined to comment. Stephenson did not return a phone message seeking comment.
WSU’s current coaching staff is not viewed as responsible for the violations, Eleanor Myers, the chief hearing officer for the NCAA Committee on Infractions said on a conference call on Thursday.
“Wichita State University did not monitor the activities of a former administrative assistant (Shelley Wombacher) regarding her use of a VIP account provided by the school’s apparel provider, according to a decision issued by a Division I Committee on Infractions panel,” the NCAA said in a news release. “For nearly two years, 21 baseball players purchased shoes, clothing, hunting gear and other non-athletics items for a total of $7,594.18, using the 50 percent discount. Because the discount provided by the former assistant was not generally available to the full student body, family and friends, the discount is considered an extra benefit to the players.”
WSU’s level of violations were categorized as Level II (significant breach of conduct) and Level III (breach of conduct). Level I (severe breach of conduct) is the highest level. Level IV (incidental issues) is the least serious.
Level II is defined as a “failure to monitor” and “systemic violations that do not rise to the level of institutional control.” Level III violations are defined as “isolated or limited in nature.”
The NCAA no longer uses terms “major” and “secondary” to categorize violations.
Myers said Wichita State’s response since self-reporting the violations in November 2013 were satisfactory. Among other actions, WSU changed the way it inventories and dispenses team apparel. Bardo, in his statement, said no sport works with apparel or equipment companies without oversight from the administration. In 2011, according to the NCAA report, an outside entity told WSU to change its system for issuing equipment and apparel. WSU did not follow that recommendation.
“They self-reported, they investigated, they had very good cooperation with the NCAA,” she said. “This was a deviation from an otherwise compliant program. You could take the conclusion, with respect to this case, they acted in a way that we expect members will act when they come across a violation.”
Myers spoke favorably of Stephenson’s record of NCAA compliance. In the report, Stephenson said that circumstances limited his time in the office late in his tenure, a factor in the violations.
“This occurrence, with the administrative assistant, was one that went on over a some period of time when he was not in the office as much as he usually was,” Myers said. “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: “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.”
The saga began in November 2013, when current WSU coach Todd Butler discovered that his players received discounts, as much as 50 percent, on Under Armour apparel, through an account administered by Wombacher. Butler, hired in June 2013, spent much of his early months on the job on the road recruiting and fall practices demanded his time.
The NCAA report states: “As (Butler) was spending more time in the baseball office, he began to notice a large number of packages from the apparel provider being delivered to the former administrative assistant. On November 15, the head coach asked one member of the team whether he had received any such items. The student-athlete confirmed that he had ordered discounted items of apparel through the former administrative assistant. The head coach reported the matter to the senior associate athletics director for external operations on the next business day. On November 21, the head coach opened a package delivered to the baseball office from the apparel provider for another student-athlete. When he found that it contained items of athletics apparel, he took the items to the institution’s associate athletic director for student services and reported his concerns. The institution then began an investigation into the use of the VIP account by student-athletes.”
NCAA rules allow athletes to purchase items related to their sport. Under Armour supplies WSU’s baseball uniforms and other apparel. However, athletes purchased hunting gear and other non-baseball clothing. On Feb. 14, four hours before WSU’s opening game against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, the NCAA suspended eight players from three to nine games. Eight players who purchased less than $100 worth of clothing paid back the money. Five athletes either left the team or transferred before the 2014 season.
A total of 39 people ordered from the VIP account, 21 of whom were baseball players. Wombacher also allowed a junior college softball coach, through a junior college baseball coach, to order 20 shirts at a discount through WSU’s account.
According to the NCAA, baseball players ordered merchandise with a retail value of $15,187.68. They paid a total of $7,593.50, $7,594.18 below the retail price.
The NCAA panel found that Wombacher did not intend to violate NCAA rules, the report states.
“While the former assistant had a working knowledge of NCAA rules, the school acknowledged it should have provided her with further rules education and didn’t closely monitor her VIP account activities,” the news release said. “Additionally, the school failed to implement recommended changes to its apparel purchasing system that would have ultimately helped avoid the extra benefit violations. Because of this, the school failed to monitor its baseball program.”
Stephenson and Wombacher did not agree with all of the NCAA’s findings, according to the NCAA. In November, they traveled to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to meet with the committee on infractions. A traveling party from WSU, including president John Bardo, athletic director Eric Sexton, associate athletic Korey Torgerson and Butler, also attended.
“The former head baseball coach did not agree that he failed to fulfill his responsibilities to monitor the former administrative assistant, which was alleged by the enforcement staff but not concluded by the panel,” the report states. “The former administrative assistant agreed with the facts but disagreed that the facts constituted violations of NCAA legislation.”
The NCAA reduced WSU’s player suspensions in half last season because it self-reported the violations, Sexton said in February.
“We fully complied with everything we have been asked to comply with,” Sexton said in September. “We identified that mistakes were made. We took action. We held ourselves accountable.”
Stephenson coached WSU from 1978-2013 and compiled a record of 1,837-675-3. Texas’ Augie Garrido is Division I’s winningest coach with 1,920 victories, while Florida State’s Mike Martin is third at 1,813 and former Texas Tech coach Larry Hays is fourth at 1,508.
Wichita State’s probations
Jan. 6, 1953 – Football program placed on one year’s probation for excessive aid to players.
Oct. 25, 1955 – Football program reprimanded for paying costs for a recruit’s visit.
Oct. 21, 1963 – Basketball program reprimanded for paying transportation for a scout.
April 30, 1968 – Football program placed on two years’ probation for improper recruiting, improper aid, improper out-of-season practice and poor ethics.
Sept. 16, 1974 – Basketball program placed on one year probation when a team official changes a transcript for a recruit.
Jan. 11, 1982 – Basketball program placed on three years’ probation for 44 violations (32 under Harry Miller, 12 under Gene Smithson).
Jan. 5, 1983 – Football program placed on two years’ probation for paying meals and transportation for recruit, and unethical conduct.
Jan. 29, 2015 – Baseball program placed on one-year probation when 21 players purchase non-baseball apparel using an impermissible 50-percent discount from the team’s apparel manufacturer.