Of all the penalties imposed on institutions by the NCAA Committee on Infractions during a major infractions case, probation is often the most misunderstood. Unlike in the criminal context, it is not imposed in lieu of another, harsher penalty. It is also not the time period during which another violation brings additional penalties; that is the five-year repeat violator period.
NCAA probation is a time of increased monitoring by the NCAA of an institution’s athletics program. The NCAA is monitoring, along with other things, whether the institution is complying with the penalties imposed in the infractions case. Normally probation passes without incident, but not in the case of Pepperdine’s recent major violation.
As a result of financial aid violations, Pepperdine self-imposed a 25% reduction in men’s volleyball scholarship (losing 1.13 per year out of 4.5) from 2011–12 to 2014–15. In 2011–12 though, the institution had not cut 1.13 scholarships, and had awarded more than their reduced limit just to incoming freshmen during the Fall 2010 early National Letter of Intent signing period. Combined with returning students, Pepperdine had already committed and awarded a full 4.5 scholarships in men’s volleyball for 2011–12 when the case was finalized in July 2012.
Part of the confusion came from Pepperdine’s argument that it intended to impose an average reduction of 25% of grants over the four years of scholarship penalties rather than an annual reduction of 25%. The Committee on Infractions did not agree, citing statements in Pepperdine’s proposed penalties in the summary disposition report and at an expedited hearing on penalties that was held before the public report was issued. In both cases, the COI found that Pepperdine never communicated an intent to apply the penalty any other way than 25% per year, every year, for four years.
After finding that Pepperdine had violated the penalties in the report, the Committee on Infractions initially proposed a one-year postseason ban on the men’s volleyball team. Pepperdine objected to that penalty and requested a hearing, which was held in August of this year. Noting that the school had already imposed a postseason ban in this case (in 2010–11), the Committee on Infractions decided the additional postseason ban was not warranted. Instead, Pepperdine’s probation will be extended an additional year, until July 2, 2016.
Not clear in the COI’s report on Pepperdine’s probation violation is what happened with Pepperdine’s scholarships. The COI notes that it allowed scholarship reductions to begin in 2012–13, presumably extending through 2015–16. But later, the COI seems to accept an argument from Pepperdine that in 2014–15 the school plans to be at only 45% of its allowable aid in men’s volleyball, a 55% reduction. That would fulfill the scholarship reduction penalty under the averaging method Pepperdine intended. So it is unclear whether the reductions now run through 2015–16, will be completed earlier with a bigger reduction, or whether both penalties are being imposed (i.e. 25% per year through 2015–16 with a 55% reduction in 2014–15).