Stephen F. Austin State University’s athletics department was placed on three years’ probation Wednesday by the NCAA in the wake of a six-year breakdown in academic certification procedures.
The school also must vacate dozens of victories in four sports, including an NCAA Tournament win, while facing fines, scholarship reductions and forfeiture of conference championships.
The NCAA probation announcement came a day after it was announced that three Lumberjacks programs would be ineligible for playoff appearances over the next two years because of shortcomings in the school’s Academic Progress Report rate that were tied to the academic certification errors.
Ryan Ivey, the school’s athletic director, said the certification errors date back to 2013 and were discovered last spring after the departure of two associate athletic directors who were responsible for rules compliance and academics.
Administrators erred by counting all semester credit hours to determine academic eligibility instead of counting only credit hours that led to a degree, Ivey said.
The errors affected the academic certification of 82 athletes in football, men’s basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball, women’s golf, men’s and women’s track & field and men’s cross country.
When the errors were found and corrected, SFA’s APR scores declined to the point that the school this week learned that it would be ineligible for postseason play this year in football and baseball and for the 2021-22 season in men’s basketball.
“It’s not fair to our current student-athletes, it’s not fair to our (current) coaches,” Ivey said in a conference call. ”But it’s the reality of the situation and of the system that we’re in.
“As an institution, we rise together and we fall together, and for us who are currently here, we have to manage it and navigate it.”
Even though the administrators who presided over the errors are no longer with the athletic department — one retired and another transferred to another campus position — Ivey said SFA “cannot dispute what has happened here. This is black and white. … We cannot argue these facts.”
The school in Nacogdoches, a member of the Southland Conference, negotiated the penalties with the NCAA and avoided more severe sanctions that could have resulted from a full-blown NCAA investigation.
Penalties included probation, public reprimand and censure, fines and penalties totaling $94,207, including half of the school’s payment for participating in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, and vacating 29 football victories, 117 men’s basketball victories and several dozen baseball and softball victories.
SFA also will forfeit Southland Conference titles in men’s basketball in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2017-18 and the Lumberjacks’ first-round win in the 2016 NCAA Tournament against West Virginia.
It also will face a 2.5 percent reduction in football scholarship funds for 2020-21 and 2021-22, a 5 percent cut in baseball scholarships for one of the next two seasons and the loss of one men’s basketball scholarship.
However, Ivey noted that the Lumberjacks’ 85-83 win over Duke last November will not be vacated.
“The Duke win still counts,” he said. “I want everyone to understand that up front.”
Ivey said the school petitioned the NCAA to allow it to serve its one-year basketball postseason ban in 2021-22 rather than this year because the team has several juniors who might have transferred had the penalty been imposed for 2020-21, which might have jeopardized their chances of graduating from the school.
“That had never been done from an NCAA standpoint,” he said.
Ivey said the current athletics department staff has revamped its certification process and that the school will hire a certification officer who does not work in the athletic department.
“We’ve put in a lot of effort to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
He said SFA student-athletes had a 3.21 grade-point average this year and won four Southland Conference championships.
As for the vacated victories and the removal of championship banners from the school’s Johnson Coliseum, Ivey said, “While those wins may be vacated on paper, they’re not vacated in our hearts.”