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NCAA forces UCLA softball to pay price for violations

By Daily Bruin Staff

May 6, 1997 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday, 5/7/97 NCAA forces UCLA softball to pay price for
violations Bruins stripped of 1995 NCAA title, right to play in
this year’s postseason

By Melissa Anderson Daily Bruin Staff The NCAA Committee on
Infractions handed down its ruling on a case involving the UCLA
softball team Tuesday afternoon, invoking harsh penalties on the
Bruins that include forcing them to vacate their 1995 NCAA title
and banning them from postseason play this year. As a result of the
misapplication of several scholarships from the women’s soccer team
to athletes playing for the softball team during the 1993-94 and
1994-95 academic years, the university and the softball program
will be paying the consequences in the years to come. "I am
surprised, shocked and disappointed," UCLA Athletic Director Peter
Dalis said in a press conference Tuesday. "Once we discovered (the
violations), (UCLA) took the appropriate action, severe action. For
(the NCAA) to add on what was added on is a complete shock." In
addition to public reprimand and censure, the ruling places the
program on three years probation beginning Feb. 1, 1997, prohibits
the team from participating in postseason competition during the
current season and requires a reduction in the number of
permissible financial aid awards by three during each of the
1997-98 and 1998-99 academic years. The Bruins will also have to
vacate the NCAA softball championship and return the trophy they
won in 1995. Moreover, during the probationary period, multisport
student athletes who participate in softball must count against the
softball team’s financial aid awards, except as required otherwise
by NCAA rules. UCLA must continue to develop a comprehensive
athletics compliance education program and report annually to the
committee during the period of probation. "This is a very
significant penalty," said David Swank, chairman of the NCAA
Committee on Infractions. "Anytime you prohibit a team from
participating in postseason competition, that is a significant
penalty. Anytime you take away three scholarships from a program
that only has 12 in the first place, that is also a very
significant penalty." UCLA becomes the sixth school since 1985 to
be stripped of a national title in any sport. While giving back the
championship is a stiff penalty, perhaps even more devastating to
this year’s squad is the inability to participate in the College
World Series. Ranked No. 4 in the nation, the Bruins are currently
in second place in the conference (39-11, 19-7 Pac-10) and were a
shoo-in to receive a bid to the postseason tournament. "We are
surprised and disappointed in the Committee on Infractions’s
decision to prohibit UCLA’s participation in the 1997 NCAA
Championship … ," Dalis said. "None of the student athletes who
participated at the time the violations occurred were named in any
of the allegations or the committee’s subsequent findings." There
is a possibility that the university could appeal the decision,
enabling the team to participate in the World Series, but Dalis was
not sure whether the school would launch such an appeal. "We’re not
sure yet if we are going to appeal," Dalis said. "Until we confer
with all authorities, we won’t make that decision. We have 15 days
to appeal it." Fifteen days won’t do much to help this year’s team,
however, as the tournament pairings are set to be announced May 11.
The violations were initially reported to the Pac-10 conference by
the university when it was discovered in June 1995 that there was
an overawarding of softball scholarships in 1994-95. The matter was
investigated by the UCLA athletic department and the Pac-10 before
being forwarded to the NCAA in December 1995. Officially, the
committee found that UCLA exceeded the permissible amount of
softball scholarships when it counted three softball players
against the financial aid limits in women’s soccer. Those athletes
did not meet the requirements of a multisport athlete because they
did not practice with or compete for the soccer team, nor were they
earnestly recruited to play soccer. In addition, the NCAA cited a
lack of institutional control and noted that "the senior associate
director of athletics involved in this case violated the NCAA
standards of ethical conduct." Although the NCAA did not name any
of the parties involved, the senior associate athletic director for
women’s athletics at the time, Judith Holland, was reassigned to a
position outside of the athletic department soon after the
violations were reported. That action on the part of UCLA met with
approval from the infractions committee and saved the program from
suffering other possible penalties. Former UCLA co-head coach
Sharron Backus was also cited in the committee’s report for her
involvement in the violations. Backus – who retired in January
after 20 years in the program – approached Holland in September
1993 to ask about the possibility of softball athletes receiving
financial aid through the soccer program if the athlete tried out
for the soccer team. Although Holland was made aware of the
requirements for multisport athletes at a June 1993 meeting, she
proceeded to place the name of a softball player on the soccer
roster Nov. 16. The athlete, whose identity was not disclosed,
never played with the team and there was no evidence that she even
tried out. The following October, Backus was involved with Holland
in setting up a soccer "tryout" in the middle of the season for
three other softball players. All three athletes were awarded
soccer scholarships, as was the player in 1993. With those
financial aid awards tacked on to the allotment for softball rather
than soccer, the softball program overallotted 0.63 scholarships in
1993-94 and 1.86 in 1994-95. Following the UCLA/Pac-10
investigation, Backus’ salary was frozen for one year and the
university rearranged its administrative structure so that the
compliance officer reports directly to the faculty athletics
representative on all compliance matters. The conference also
penalized the program 2.5 scholarships per year through 1999.
Backus, who was cleared of any wrongdoings despite her involvement
with Holland, contends that her resignation had nothing to do with
the penalties set down by UCLA or the impending NCAA investigation.
Rather, the former coach says it was the death of her mother that
led her to make the change. "People are going to form their own
opinion, but the loss of my mother, who was basically the mainstay
of my life, had a real effect on me," Backus said. "In terms of
being punished by the school, that had nothing to do with it at
all. It was completely my choice." Sue Enquist, who took over the
sole head-coaching duties after eight years as co-head coach with
Backus, was not named in any of the allegations. Mark Shapiro,
Daily Bruin Staff, contributed to this report. PATRICK LAM/Daily
Bruin Athletic Director Peter Dalis and Betsy Stephenson, senior
women’s sports administrator, discuss sanctions. Previous Daily
Bruin stories Campus News Bulletin, November 6, 1996

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