By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State University was sanctioned by the NCAA on Wednesday after rules violations were discovered. The sanctions were levied upon NSU after the NCAA Division II Committee on Infractions found that a former women's tennis coach provided several players with a combined $1,300 while also paying for academic fees and meals.
"The situation is highly regrettable," said Tony Duckworth, NSU's director of athletics.
"This doesn't reflect the image and the values of our university. The circumstances of this case are highly unusual, and we're going to try to prevent something like this from happening again."
NSU's tennis program was put on probation for one year, and the university was fined $5,000. Also, former NSU tennis coach Ron Cox — who retired in late 2012 — must attend ethics training if he coaches at another NCAA institution before July 2, 2015.
Despite probation, NSU will be eligible for postseason competition in 2013-2014.
The terms were agreed to by the NCAA, Cox and NSU.
The NCAA's investigation began in 2012. During the probe, the NCAA discovered that Cox had provided six athletes with money prior to their scholarship checks being issued.
In the NCAA's report, it states that NSU's tennis team consisted of seven international students and one domestic student who was a walk-on during the 2009-2010 academic year. And because of scholarship checks not arriving until September — after students begin showing up for each semester in August — most athletes living off campus are expected to provide for themselves during that time. During that period, Cox provided two athletes with a combined $300. Then, in August of 2011, Cox provided a combined $1,000 for four more athletes.
In addition, Cox also provided athletes with meals, transportation and cost-free textbooks. He also used athletes to try sway international prospects during the recruiting process.
The NCAA stated that Cox used unethical conduct and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance with NCAA rules.
Messages left by the Tahlequah Daily Press in an attempt to gain comments were not returned by Cox.
This was the school's first major infractions case since the institution became a member of the NCAA.
In accordance with the sanctions, NSU must also vacate any records or results during the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons.
"Any matches that were connected with this specific timeline," Duckworth said when asked which records or results would be voided. During that three-year span, NSU went a combined 38-19 and reached the Round of 16 in the NCAA tournament in 2010.
In an attempt to avoid further penalties, NSU self-imposed a punishment and canceled the 2012 fall tennis season. During that time, Cox retired on Nov. 1, 2012. Amanda Stone was then hired as the new head coach, athletes were reinstated and the RiverHawks finished second in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association and made it the Round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.
"I think what they did this past season was outstanding," Duckworth said of the tennis team's 23-4 campaign. "I give Coach Stone a lot of credit. She was able to overcome a lot of obstacles, especially with not having a fall season to build off of."
After the investigation carried on for more than 12 months, Duckworth said he's ready to move on.
"There will be no opportunity to appeal," he said, "so this matter is closed and we can look toward moving forward."
Probation and penalties
Northeastern State's tennis program was put on probation for rules violations under former head coach Ron Cox. The university also had to pay a fine of $5,000 after it was discovered that Cox provided athletes with at least a combined $1,300, in addition to meals and transportation. He also used student-athletes to assist during the recruiting process.
While probation does not mean a banishment from postseason play, NSU must comply with specific guidelines set forth by the NCAA:
- NSU must put the information regarding this case on the institution's website.
- NSU must include the information in any sort of media guide or recruiting material.
- NSU have a report in September that provides the steps that it's taking to ensure that another incident doesn't occur again.
Probation also did not limit any future recruiting by NSU and there were no scholarship reductions. It also does not impact any additional sports at NSU.