NCAA Releases Q&A on Academic Misconduct

Today the NCAA released an Educational Column on “academic misconduct”. In it, the NCAA attempts to define more clearly the difference between academic misconduct, an “academic offense” and a “misconduct violation”.

The Q&A builds on an official interpretation and starts by making it clear that institutions have a great deal of discretion in most cases of academic misconduct. “Academic misconduct” is any violation of the institution’s academic policies and should be handled according to institutional procedures applicable to all students. An “academic offense” is academic misconduct which does not rise to the level of an NCAA violation. A “misconduct violation” is exactly what it sounds like, academic misconduct which constitutes a violation of NCAA rules.

The Q&A then spends the rest of its time on explaining the difference between an academic offense and a misconduct violation. The ed column breaks possible academic misconduct into two categories: cases involving fraudulent credit and cases involving other types of academic misconduct.

If a student-athlete or institutional staff member arranges for fraudulent credit, a violation of Bylaw 10.1-(b) occurs. The NCAA defines “arranging for fraudulent credit” thusly:

This phrase refers to conduct such as altering or “doctoring” transcripts or arranging to receive credit for a course in which the prospective student-athlete or student-athlete did not enroll or he or she did not complete.

That does not include activities like an athlete cheating on a test, plagiarizing a paper, or receiving impermissible assistance on course work. In those cases, the institution only has to report a misconduct violation if the academic misconduct resulted in an erroneous declaration of eligibility and the athlete competes under that declaration. An erroneous declaration of eligibility is defined as:

When academic misconduct results in an institution certifying a prospective or enrolled student-athlete as eligible when he or should would otherwise have been ineligible for competition.

So say an athlete cheats on a final, with the help of a tutor, at the end of the fall semester. If the athlete still would have been eligible had they failed the course (passed six hours, meet minimum cumulative GPA), then a misconduct violation has not occurred. If the athlete would not have been eligible but the misconduct is caught before the athlete competes, a misconduct violation still has not occurred. In both these cases though, the athlete’s misconduct must be handled in accordance with institutional policies applicable to all students.

Contrast that with a clear case of arranging for fraudulent credit, say when a coach asks a professor to change an athlete’s grade or to enroll an athlete in a class and give him a passing grade after the semester. In those cases, it does not matter whether the athlete would have been eligible or not and whether the athlete competed or not. A misconduct violation occurs as soon as the coach arranges for the fraudulent credit.

In cases that involve an academic offense but not an academic violation, the institution and athlete are not necessarily off the hook. The final question in the Q&A reminds institutions that regardless of whether an academic violation has occurred, there may still be an extra benefit violation, for example if a staff member provided impermissible academic assistance to the athlete.

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