Aug. 30, 2012
Carrie McCaw, Mark Jones, Stuart Brown
Academic integrity is a cornerstone of the NCAA's student-athlete model, which is based upon the notion that student-athletes satisfy the same academic standards as their non-athlete peers. Few, if any, NCAA violations undermine the student-athlete model more than the commission of academic fraud. Unfortunately, academic fraud continues to be an area of compliance risk on NCAA campuses.
Bylaw 10.1-(b) governs academic fraud in the NCAA compliance context. Since 1990, the Division I Committee on Infractions has found violations of this bylaw in 23 major infractions cases. These cases include examples of blatant academic misconduct such as the wholesale dissemination of quiz answers to student-athletes, arranging for an imposter to take a student-athlete's exam, third-party completion of course assignments for student-athletes and changing grades on transcripts. However, despite the broad scope of Bylaw 10.1-(b) and the Committee's findings, not every instance of academic misconduct related to a student-athlete constitutes an academic fraud violation for NCAA compliance purposes.
When academic misconduct related to a student-athlete occurs, institutions must determine whether the misconduct should be reported to the NCAA as a violation of the Association's bylaws. A Sept. 6, 2000, NCAA official interpretation establishes guidelines for institutions to use in answering this question.
The official interpretation establishes that an institution "is required to report" a violation of Bylaw 10.1-(b) (i.e, academic fraud) to the NCAA in either of two situations (emphasis added):
"…any time an institutional staff member (e.g., coach, professor, tutor, teaching assistant) is knowingly involved in arranging fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts for a prospective student-athlete or student-athlete, regardless whether the staff member acted alone or in concert with the prospect or student-athlete."
"…any time a student-athlete, acting alone or in concert with others knowingly becomes involved in arranging fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts, regardless of whether such conduct results in an erroneous declaration of eligibility."
Although these guidelines clearly cover the kinds of blatant academic misconduct noted above, institutions should also recognize several other important aspects of these guidelines.
First, as noted in a March 26, 2001, NCAA educational column, the definition of "staff member" is extremely broad and includes students and volunteers. Specifically, "a staff member includes any individual who performs work for the institution or the athletics department, even if the individual is a student at the institution (e.g., student manager, student trainer) and/or does not receive compensation from the institution for performing such services (e.g., volunteer coaches, undergraduate assistant coaches and graduate assistant coaches)."
Second, for NCAA compliance purposes, essentially any involvement by a staff member in academic misconduct must be reported to the NCAA as academic fraud. The fact that a student-athlete completed most of the work on an assignment or already knew the subject matter of a test for which he was provided answers does not excuse a staff member's involvement or eliminate the reporting requirement. For example, in a recent case the Committee found that academic fraud occurred when a student-athlete used an outline and other material provided by a tutor to compose a paper, as well as when a tutor drafted concluding paragraphs to several papers for a student-athlete. Similarly, the Committee has found academic fraud when a student-athlete submitted a rough draft of a paper written by a staff member, even though the student-athlete received no credit for the rough draft and subsequently wrote the final paper for his grade on a different subject and without any improper assistance. The history of the Committee's decisions indicates that any work by another individual which in effect blurs the ability to evaluate the student-athlete's independent work on any academic assignment that is the student-athlete's responsibility constitutes academic fraud.
Third, the involvement of a staff member with any academic misconduct regarding a prospective student-athlete constitutes academic fraud that must be reported. Past major infractions cases indicate that situations in which prospects transferring from two year institutions attempt to complete a significant number of credit hours in a short period of time through correspondence or on-line courses are an area of particular risk. The Committee has also found academic fraud violations of Bylaw 10.1-(b) due to staff members' involvement with prospects' pre-college entrance exams and tampering with high school educational records.
Despite the broad scope of Bylaw 10.1-(b), the official interpretation establishes that not every instance of academic misconduct related to a student-athlete constitutes a reportable violation of Bylaw 10.1-(b). The official interpretation states that an institution "is not required to report" a violation if "a student-athlete commits an academic offense (e.g., cheating on a test, plagiarism on a term paper) with no involvement of an institutional staff member […] unless the academic offense results in an erroneous declaration of eligibility and the student-athlete subsequently competes for the institution (emphasis added)."
Thus, if a student-athlete is alleged to have cheated on an exam or plagiarized a paper without any staff member involvement, established institutional policies for addressing the allegation must be followed. If the application of those policies does not result in a retroactive final grade change that would have affected the eligibility of the student-athlete, then a violation does not need to be reported. However, if the application of those policies results in a retroactive grade change that would have rendered the student-athlete ineligible during a period in which he competed, a violation must be reported to the NCAA.
Finally, the NCAA allows institutions great autonomy in regard to establishing institutional policies for addressing academic misconduct. However, the NCAA expects an institution to abide by whatever policies it establishes and to consistently apply those policies to student-athletes and non-athlete students. Specifically, according to the official interpretation, "if a student-athlete knowingly engages in conduct that violates institutional policies, the institution is required to handle a student-athlete's academic offense in accordance with established academic policies applicable to all students, regardless of whether the violation is reportable under Bylaw 10.1-(b)." Therefore, whatever an institution's process for reporting, investigating, adjudicating, and disciplining academic misconduct may be, it is important for the institution to follow that process for student-athletes and non-athlete students alike. Otherwise, the institution risks facing an allegation of an institutional violation of NCAA bylaws even if the underlying academic related conduct does not constitute an academic fraud violation pursuant to Bylaw 10.1-(b).
To further discuss academic fraud in the NCAA compliance context or other NCAA compliance issues, contact Ice Miller's Collegiate Sports Group
This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The reader must consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader's specific circumstances.