WSU to appeal NCAA ruling on vacation of baseball wins

Actual ticket scan numbers show Wichita State is filling just 5 percent of Eck Stadium in home games this season.

Sports Editor

The NCAA handed the Wichita State baseball program a one-year probation and a $5,000 fine, in addition to the team vacating all wins in which the players participated while ineligible, according to a news release issued by the organization Thursday.

The one-year probation began Thursday and runs through Jan. 28, 2016.

The NCAA gave their decision after conducting an investigation into the baseball team’s improper use of apparel benefits between February 2012 and November 2013.

University President John Bardo said in a statement Thursday the punishment set by the NCAA for these infractions are appropriate. However, Bardo said the university will appeal the sanctions in regards to vacated wins.

If the appeal is denied, WSU is supposed to vacate all regular season and conference tournament wins in which the 21 ineligible student-athletes competed from the time they became ineligible through the time they were reinstated as eligible for competition. That means the team’s record will be adjusted downward to a maximum of 74 WSU wins during the 2012 and 2013 seasons be vacated.

The individual records of the student-athletes will also be vacated. All of the university’s records regarding baseball, as well as the record of former head coach Gene Stephenson, will reflect the vacated records and will be recorded in all publications (i.e. conference, NCAA, media guides, etc.).

In the WSU statement, Bardo said, “The student-athletes involved acted without guilty knowledge. It seems unfair to permanently tarnish the records they achieved as a team.”

The NCAA release states that for nearly two years, 21 baseball players, using a 50 percent discount provided by a former assistant, purchased shoes, clothing, hunting gear and other non-athletic items for a total of $7,594.18. The discount was not generally available to the full student body, family or friends. It is considered an extra benefit to the players. The retail value of the items was $15,187.68. The student-athletes paid a total of $7,593.50 for the items, $7,594.18 below retail price.

A former administrative assistant provided her login information to baseball players so they could access her computer and VIP account, according to the NCAA release. Shelley Wombacher, an employee of WSU and of the baseball program for more than 20 years, was the administrative assistant at the time.

The athletes paid for the items themselves and thought they could order items in this manner as a part of the school’s agreement with the apparel provider.

The NCAA also found Wombacher provided impermissible recruiting inducements to a two-year college coach and the coach’s student-athletes by providing them an apparel discount through the retailer.

Wombacher told the NCAA the discount was available to anyone and she never said ‘no’ to anyone who asked for it. However, she said she did not advertise the discount, and the only people aware of the discount were those associated with the baseball program or people she told about it.

Coaches, staff and administrators are allowed to order apparel. Athletes are allowed to order items, such as running shoes or sweatsuits, used in their sport.

Many of the items purchased from February 2012 through November 2013 were baseball team apparel, including T-shirts, caps, hoodie sweatshirts, jackets, shorts and athletic shoes. The student-athletes used many of those items for training and practice purposes. Some of them also ordered polo shirts and backpacks, as well as hunting gear, including boots, “camo” items, gloves, pants, jackets and “bibs.”

“The Gael,” a newsletter from Saint Mary’s College Coaches & Athletic Administration compliance published in March 2014, stated that WSU sources said “the orders took place without the knowledge of former coach Stephenson and his assistant coaches. Members of the current coaching staff discovered the issue and brought it to the attention of the administration. Stephenson was fired after 46 seasons on June 4, 2013. Current head coach Todd Butler was hired June 16, 2013.”

However, the NCAA report found that the former head coach reviewed all purchase orders for his program. The program could spend no money without his authorization, and he personally checked orders when they arrived to ensure the correct quantities of the correct equipment and merchandise had been shipped. He tracked the amount of money being spent to ensure his program did not exceed the product allowance of the apparel contract.

According to the NCAA’s report, Stephenson observed three or four baseball student-athletes gathered around Wombacher’s desk. Stephenson asked Wombacher what the student-athletes had been doing, and she replied they were ordering Christmas presents. Stephenson knew the team apparel contract permitted purchases for the team at wholesale pricing if the team ever exceeded the annual product allowance.

Stephenson told Wombacher, “Be sure [the student-athletes] pay for it themselves and are paying the same price … you sell it to other people for, outsiders, whatever that is.” Wombacher replied, “They are, I’m making sure of that.” That left Stephenson with the impression they were receiving no special consideration, but admitted that, in hindsight, he could have asked her further follow-up questions.

Stephenson did not agree that he failed to fulfill his responsibilities to monitor Wombacher, which was alleged by the enforcement staff but not concluded by the panel. Wombacher agreed with the facts found, but disagreed that the facts constituted violations of NCAA legislation.

The university contracted the sports apparel provider, Under Armour, to serve as its exclusive apparel and equipment supplier for the baseball team. Under the contract, Under Armour supplied a predetermined number of uniforms, footwear and other items each year.

Under Armour paid the institution an annual “rights fee” and gave the baseball program an annual “allowance” for use in purchasing products. Wombacher and the athletics equipment manager were the only individuals with authorization to order items from the account.

Eric Sexton, director of athletics, said in his interview to the NCAA regarding the former head coach’s commitment to rules compliance, “I would say his philosophy in compliance was he was always, always, always — never questioned that he was always going to run a program at the highest integrity and run it by the rules.”

The panel concluded that the violations are mitigated. Therefore the panel declined to issue a show-cause order.

If WSU’s appeal to the NCAA is denied, the team would vacate approximately 35 wins from 2012 and 39 from 2013, but the losses would still stand. The 74 wins would also be struck from former head coach Gene Stephenson’s record.

The win-loss records for the opposing teams will not be changed when games are vacated. The individual statistics of student-athletes declared eligible are not affected by this action.

WSU is still determining exactly how many wins would be affected because it depends on when the purchases were made on the account and what wins those players (declared ineligible) participated in.

The current coaching staff was not implicated as guilty parties.