The Cal football team was banned from postseason play for the upcoming season and placed on five years of probation Wednesday by the NCAA for academic fraud and recruiting and eligibility violations.
Cal will also lose nine scholarships over four seasons as part of the punishment for infractions that included two ineligible players taking part in a game and extra benefits during hotel stays.
The NCAA ruling alleges that Cal violated ethical conduct bylaws governing academic fraud, academic eligibility, obligation to withhold ineligible student-athletes from competition, extra benefits, recruiting, and institutional control.
The NCAA sanctions follow penalties issued by the Pac-10 Conference that placed the team on conference probation for a year, ordered the program to adopt a compliance oversight plan and forced Cal to forfeit a 1999 victory against Arizona State University.
Cal Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl said in a prepared statement that the school plans to appeal the NCAA ruling. Berdahl said while the school accepted the conference sanctions, the new penalties are too harsh.
“In the case of the additional infractions, the NCAA-imposed penalties appear unduly excessive and that is why we have decided to appeal,” he said.
The NCAA infractions committee took the case seriously because it indicated a systematic breakdown of the proper practices to follow regarding infractions, said committee chair Tom Yeager.
The committee also considers Cal a repeat offender because the alleged violations occurred within five years of a previous major infractions case. Cal received the five-year probation because of its repeat-offender status.
Cal’s academic improprieties occurred in 1999 when a university professor awarded false academic credits to wide receivers Michael Ainsworth and Ronnie Davenport. The two players proceeded to play in the fall of 1999 without properly completing the minimum number of credits to remain eligible. The professor, Alex Saragoza, stepped down in 2001 when the violations became public, and the school and conference agreed to penalize the team four scholarships, along with the forfeit and a year of probation.
Additional violations were submitted by the school last year. Cal informed the NCAA of 34 players who received extra benefits while staying at hotels before games, ranging from 75 cents to more than $300. In addition, four football recruits on campus visits were found to have incurred hotel charges in violation with NCAA recruiting rules. Those violations occurred between 1997 and 2001.
All of the violations cited in the NCAA report occurred under former head coach Tom Holmoe, who resigned after a 1-10 2001 season. New head coach Jeff Tedford, hired in December, is dealing with serious sanctions before he coaches his first game at the school.
“I expected we would receive some additional penalty from the NCAA, although it is unfortunate that a new administration and coaching staff must bear the burden,” Tedford said. “Obviously, we would like to have a full complement of scholarships and no bowl restrictions this year. But I don’t expect this ruling to be and impediment for our football program reaching its ultimate goals.”
Yeager said the carryover of penalties to a coach and players uninvolved in the infractions is an unfortunate but necessary step to punishing the program.
“It’s a part of the consequence that applies to the institution,” he said. “There is always the possibility that students and coaches not involved will be affected.”
Cal Athletic Director Steve Gladstone, also a recent hire, condemned the previous administration for the sanctions while expressing surprise at the severity of the punishment.
“I particularly feel badly for our student-athletes on this year’s team, as they are being punished for violations that involved two individuals in the academic case and for hotel incidental infractions that would normally be considered minor violations by the NCAA,” Gladstone said. “If the athletic department had not been so careless and slow in acting upon the violations, there would have been no NCAA penalty at all. Instead, because of timing, these minor violations became major infractions in the minds of the NCAA.”