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Techni-Cal-ity
NCAA dubs Caltech violation a lack of institutional control
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Forsyth County News

Nonsense.

Absolute, utter nonsense.

Last Thursday, the NCAA Division III Committee on Infractions cited the California Institute of Technology for lack of institutional control.

That’s right.

Caltech.

On probation.

Right alongside Southern Cal.

I mean, come on. This is Caltech we’re talking about. Producer of 32 Nobel Prize winners. The top ranked engineering school in the world. Home of the nation’s highest starting salaries for its graduates.

How in the world does Caltech run afoul of the NCAA?

The geniuses managed to figure out a way.

At the beginning of each trimester, students are allowed to "shop" for courses. For three weeks, they may sit in on classes to decide which courses they want to take. Or don’t want to take.

As Albie Lavin, co-captain of the baseball team, told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, "It’s really important to know about the class before you take it; the scheduling, and the workload, because you have to make sure it fits your other classes."

Seriously, without a three-week preview, how could a student choose between Heterogeneous Kinetics and Reaction Engineering and Stochastic System Theory and Bayesian Updating? Perhaps even with a three week preview.

The problem with the shop around system is that it doesn’t fit into the NCAA’s neat little world. For three weeks, students are attending classes, but they haven’t registered for them yet. Ergo, in the eyes of the NCAA, they are part-time students, and ineligible to compete in intercollegiate athletics.

When Betsy Mitchell, a silver-medal winning Olympic swimmer, took over as athletic director in 2011, she discovered that Caltech had no procedures in place between the athletic department and the registrar’s office to ensure the eligibility of student-athletes.

"It became clear we had gaps and holes, and we weren’t doing things at least the way I was accustomed to," Mitchell told Adam Himmelsbach of the New York Times. Upon further review, Mitchell discovered that 30 athletes in 12 sports were ineligible when they competed between 2007 and 2011.

Among the gaps and holes: coaches were not informed of the academic status of members of their teams, and the athletic department was never informed when student-athletes were placed on academic probation or when they fell below good academic standing requirements.

"Even though it was very technical, we weren’t doing it right," Mitchell told Plaschke. "And around here, doing it right is what matters.

"This is about educational athletics versus entertainment athletics," Mitchell continued. "We teach through our sports, and we’re teaching through this."

Learning experience though it may be, is this really activity which requires NCAA policing? "Nobody was trying to get around the system," senior basketball player Christophe Kunesh told Himmelsbach. "It wasn’t like it was a loophole they lucked into. When you look at what happens at some Division I schools relative to what happens at Caltech, it’s all kind of silly."

Ellen Staurowsky, sport management professor at Drexel University, agrees. "A situation in which they have very specific reasons as to why they run their academic programs the way they do is a very different issue than an institution manipulating their academic program in order to allow athletes who should not be eligible become eligible," she told Himmelsbach.

Still, Mitchell feels that by reporting violations that the NCAA never would have discovered, Caltech acted appropriately. "This is our integrity at stake here," she told Plaschke. "It stinks, but we did the right thing, and we’re going to take our medicine."

Caltech fined itself $5,000, eliminated off-campus recruiting, vacated all wins in which ineligible athletes competed, and added a one-year ban on postseason play.

The medicine also includes a public reprimand and censure and three years of probation added by the NCAA. Clearly, one rogue program in the state is enough.

The sports that are sanctioned? Men’s and women’s track and field, both of which just finished last in the eight-team Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships. Also the cross country teams (the women were last, the men seventh.)

Women’s swimming (seventh in the SCIAC.)

Men’s soccer (1-18 overall, 1-13 SCIAC.)

Men’s water polo (2-23, 1-10. But note that one win came over an Alumni team which, of course, featured Caltech alumni.)

Men’s basketball (5-20, 0-14.)

Women’s tennis (5-11, 1-9.)

Men’s tennis (0-16, 0-8.)

And baseball (0-33, 0-28), working on a 227 game losing streak. And counting.

Hard to imagine a program more immune to anything the NCAA can mete out. Caltech sure gained a competitive advantage from its lack of institutional control.