Flag on the Play

May 3rd, 2007
Ivy League schools are so concerned about protecting academic integrity from the overly assiduous pursuit of athletic championships that they have some of the strictest recruiting rules in all of higher education. Although the pride taken in championships at big football schools often triggers a flood of alumni gifts, the Ivy League has long believed that the risks involved - diverting money to sports programs, for example, or otherwise compromising the supremacy of academics - are not worth the possible gains.

Ivy League schools forbid the granting of any athletic scholarships, and although this is a straightforward restriction when the financial aid is given out by Brown, the rule is trickier when policing outside scholarships. Or so the University found out this spring, when a complaint from the Ivy League office triggered a two-month internal investigation. In the end, Brown concluded that coaches, administrators, and alumni had violated Ivy and NCAA recruiting rules. Four Brown teams - football, volleyball, men's basketball, and men's soccer - now face minor penalties as a result.

The violations appear to have stemmed, ironically, from an easing of the University's financial-aid rules for all students. In February 1999 Brown announced that a student could now go after non-University scholarships (from a Rotary Club, for example) without having them reduce the amount of the student's University-awarded grant. The change gives students, including athletes, an additional incentive to apply for supplemental scholarships. Some scholarships, however, are awarded only to athletes, a type of financial aid the Ivy League forbids and the NCAA strictly regulates.

"In Ivy terms," says Jeffrey Orleans, executive director of the Ivy League, "any situation that involves either financial aid or administrative oversight is something that should be scrutinized very carefully. Not permitting athletic scholarships is a fundamental tenet of the Ivy League."

The University inquiry examined efforts by coaches, staff, and alumni to help two current students and eight recruits. It found that one foundation offered scholarships based partly on athletic merit to some of the recruits and both of the students, a violation of the Ivy ban on athletic scholarships.

The NCAA violations involve two rules. The first prohibits schools from giving athletes special help in finding outside aid. Investigators determined that recruits learned about foundation money from head coaches in football, men's basketball, and men's soccer. In addition, the volleyball coach contacted one foundation to endorse a scholarship for one of the recruits. Finally, the Brown Sports Foundation, an arm of the development office, was found to have given recruits a list of foundations that offer scholarships.

The NCAA also bans outside aid that limits an athlete's choice of school. In Brown's case, one of the outside foundations showed a pattern of awarding money only to Brown students, in effect making its grants contingent upon students' attending Brown.

The investigation began after a coach at another school became suspicious during a conversation with a recruit who had just visited Brown. University administrators would not reveal the names of the foundations or the people involved, choosing instead to release a 1,500-word summary of the inquiry.

The penalties Brown faces aim to offset any recruiting advantage Brown may have temporarily gained. The University, in conjunction with the League, was allowed to devise its own punishments: a mix of recruiting penalties, administrative sanctions, and extra education for coaches and staff. The football team, for example, will be allowed five fewer matriculants, possibly spread over two years. In addition, it will be permitted fewer visits from recruits next year, and the number of football coaches allowed to recruit off campus will be reduced as well. Similar, if lighter, penalties have been assessed against the volleyball, men's soccer, and men's basketball teams.

"With clearer instruction to coaches and others," says the Ivy League's Orleans, "these errors could have been prevented." To ensure that the violations are not repeated, football coaches will take extra classes on NCAA and Ivy rules, and the Sports Foundation's executive director will take periodic NCAA exams.

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Related Issue
July / August 2000