The SFA Athletics department was hit with penalties regarding an administrative error, which resulted in academic progress report (APR) scores for three sports along with the participation of 82 ineligible athletes from 2013 to 2019. As a result, 289 wins by football, men’s basketball, baseball and softball from those years were vacated.
In addition, football, men’s basketball and baseball were served with one-year postseason bans. Football and baseball will serve theirs in the 2020-2021 season, and men’s basketball will serve theirs in 2021-2022.
“Today, the NCAA publicly released Academic Progress Report (APR) scores for all Division I athletic programs, including Stephen F. Austin,” SFA Director of Athletics Ryan Ivey said in a statement on Tuesday. “These four-year cohort APR scores began with the 2015-2016 academic year.”
Ivey stated that the three sports programs failed to meet the minimum four-year cohort APR score of 930 needed to avoid penalties. As a result, they must serve the Level I APR penalties, which includes a reduction in countable practice hours and a one-year postseason ban.
“Beginning in 2013, an athletics department administrative error in the academic certification process resulted in the miscalculation of SFA’s reported APR scores,” Ivey said. “Once the administrative error was identified and corrected, the APR scores of these three programs fell below the 930 threshold.”
Ivey said that procedures are now in place to prevent a recurrence of the error. He also added that the athletics department has been focused on academic progress and is proud of its current student athletes who collectively earned a 3.21 GPA for the spring semester.
In a statement release on Wednesday about the NCAA Negotiated Resolution Agreement, Ivey stated the following: “The primary issue was that in the Spring of 2019, a member of our athletics department discovered that the process by which our student-athletes were being certified as academically eligible was not properly accounting for all NCAA requirements. The primary issue was that former department personnel responsible for the certification process were incorrectly counting all semester credit hours to determine academic eligibility instead of counting only degree-applicable credits, as prescribed by NCAA rules. This error--and other similar errors-- resulted in 82 student-athletes being improperly certified for competition over a period of six years, from 2013 to 2019, meaning 82 student-athletes competed while ineligible for SFA in the sports of football, men's basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball, women's golf, men's and women's track & field and men's cross country.
“After identifying these errors, the University immediately reviewed the academic standing of all current student-athletes and, when warranted, filed for and secured student-athlete reinstatement eligibility by the NCAA, clearing the students for competition. Shortly after the discovery of the issue, the University retained outside legal counsel to work with the institution and the NCAA to determine the facts and scope of the potential violations. Once that review was completed, SFA and the NCAA staff came to an agreement on sanctions through a Negotiated Resolution. The NR is a process offered by the NCAA to resolve infractions cases when the facts are not in dispute, which is the case in our matter. This route saved the University time and financial resources, but most importantly, lessoned the risk of more severe penalties if the University had opted to proceed through the traditional infractions process.
“Our actions since the discovery of the improper certifications in 2019 demonstrate our unwavering commitment to integrity and fair play and our willingness to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. In fact, the NCAA enforcement staff and Committee on Infractions recognized this commitment in the Negotiated Resolution by crediting our "exemplary cooperation" in the investigation and citing SFA as a "model for other institutions" facing similar violations. We are a stronger University today because of our actions and our values and we look forward to the next chapter of Lumberjack Athletics.”
SFA President Dr. Scott Gordon also made a statement about the ramifications being put on the athletic department, stating that the personnel responsible for the violation are no longer a part of SFA Athletics.
“I want to make it clear that these violations occurred before our current leadership in athletics arrived, and I know the athletics administration has been fully transparent with the NCAA and has been working hard to identify any and all violations,” Gordon said.
Gordon also said that he has full confidence in Ivey and the new compliance personnel and that he has worked closely with them in order to reduce the risk of violations from happening again.
“These measures include the hiring of an assistant to work with our compliance officer for eligibility checks and identifying a lead NCAA eligibility staff member in the Office of the Registrar who will be housed outside of the athletics program,” Gordon said.
Lumberjacks Head Football Coach Colby Carthel stated that the post-season ban does not represent the current culture of SFA Football, and he takes pride in knowing that through hard work, student-athletes achieved an above 3.0 GPA for the spring semester.
“When we took the program over, we inherited a team with a 2.06 GPA,” Carthel said. “However, through the hard work of our student-athletes and new academic support team, this spring semester our team achieved a 3.21 GPA.”
Carthel also feels that academic success will continue, and he believes in the student-athletes, the current coaches, staff and administration.
Lumberjacks Head Basketball Coach Kyle Keller stated that while the current roster and staff were not implicated in any NCAA findings or violations, he still respects the decision made by the NCAA.
“I am disappointed on many fronts, not only for our men's basketball student-athletes, but for the other sports affected by this ruling today, as well as our great fans and alumni,” Keller said. “That being said, I acknowledge and respect the NCAA's decision to levy this punishment due to improper advisement by our previous academic staff to a group of student-athletes.”
Keller added that as a department, they have worked diligently to uphold the highest standards of academic integrity and will continue to do so.
“As long as I remain the head coach of the SFA men's basketball program, we will continue to exemplify those standards of excellence both on and off the court,” Keller said. “Both our future and present remain extremely bright at SFA.”
SFA Baseball also plans to continue to strive for best performance in the classroom and on the field, operating with both integrity and high standards.
“While this is a blow to our team and program, we stand together in our resolve to show how strong our leadership can be during these difficult times,” Head Baseball Coach Johnny Cardenas said.
Although this set back is both disappointing and unexpected for SFA students, athletes and fans, SFA Athletics is taking the steps needed now to ensure that something like this will not happen again in the future.
Ivey’s full statement, along with statements made by the other SFA head coaches, can be found on the homepage of the SFA Athletics website.