Princeton censured for ‘major’ NCAA violation in women’s tennis

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The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions has penalized Princeton University for a major violation involving impermissible payment for a women’s tennis player’s educational expenses. According to a Sept. 8 NCAA release, an alumnus provided approximately $33,000 for tuition and books for one varsity player over the course of three semesters in 2007-08. Neither the player nor the alumnus were named.

Two penalties were levied by the committee: public reprimand and censure; and vacation of the student-athlete’s individual records for the three semesters in question — fall 2007, spring 2008, and fall 2008. Because the violation was limited in scope and self-reported by the alumnus and the University, the committee "imposed only minimal penalties," the NCAA release said, and chose not to put the women’s tennis team on probation. This was Princeton’s first major infraction case, according to the Public Infractions Report.

President Tilghman responded to the ruling in a Princeton release. "We looked closely at the circumstances surrounding this isolated and inadvertent infraction and at the relationship between the alumnus and the student’s family, and we are convinced that even though the alumnus is a long-time supporter of tennis at Princeton, he was acting only with the interest of helping a family friend pursue an educational opportunity for which her parents were not willing to provide financial support," Tilghman said. "We do not believe that this should have been characterized as a major violation, but we certainly regret the infraction and remain firmly committed to complying with all NCAA rules."

The Princeton women’s tennis team has won Ivy League titles in the last two seasons under two different coaches, Megan Bradley, who joined the program in 2009, and Kathy Sell, who coached the Tigers for five years, including the two in which the NCAA rules violation occurred. The University said that the alumnus in question acted without the knowledge of Princeton’s coaches and athletics administrators.

According to the NCAA infraction report, the alumnus became aware of his improper actions in September 2008, when he received an e-mail "compliance update," sent to boosters by the athletics department. He called the director of athletics to discuss whether his payments had violated NCAA rules. After a brief investigation, the University reported the violation to the NCAA in late November 2008. In January 2009, the student was reinstated to the women’s tennis team and forced to sit out the first 20 percent of the 2009 spring season. The NCAA continued its investigation, which culminated with a hearing in Indianapolis in June 2010.

According to the University, the alumnus who made the improper payments was a family friend of the student-athlete and regarded her as "a surrogate daughter in need of financial assistance." The infraction report quotes the student’s parents, who said they "were not comfortable" with relying on the friend’s assistance but they recognized that their daughter "might have to forestall her college plans altogether if the offer was declined."

Ivy League director Robin Harris said in a release that the league does not anticipate additional sanctions beyond those levied by the NCAA. The NCAA report included a document from Princeton in which the University said that the Ivy League has "corrected an ambiguity" in its financial-aid form that might have contributed to the women’s tennis player’s violation. In the form, the league said that funding from "family or personal resources" was permissible, but NCAA rules only allow funding from "one upon whom the student-athlete is naturally or legally dependent."