For First Time in 36 Years, NCAA Punishes an Ivy

A tennis player at Princeton who allegedly accepted $33,000 from a booster has earned the university the dubious honor of being the first Ivy League college in 36 years to run afoul of NCAA rules in a major infractions case.

The NCAA said the booster, who is an alumnus of Princeton’s men’s tennis program, provided the sum to a player on the women’s tennis team during the 2007-8 academic year and the fall of 2008 to help pay for her educational expenses. (Princeton, like all Ivy League institutions, does not offer athletic scholarships.) The booster and the athlete met during the summer before her freshman year of high school at a tennis club near their homes.

As punishment, the NCAA instructed the university to vacate the athlete’s individual records during the 2007-8 year and the fall of 2008.

The NCAA’s report stated that Princeton, in its written response to the allegations, “attempted to minimize the significance” of the $33,000 donation.

The university’s argument went like this: The dollar amount of the booster’s assistance “was entirely a function of the cost of the Princeton education,” minus the athlete’s financial-aid award from the university. In other words, if it cost less to attend Princeton, the booster would have paid less. (For a lengthier explanation of this interesting theory, go to Page 3 of the NCAA’s public report.)

Today the university issued a lengthy statement saying it had “mixed reactions” to the NCAA’s findings and giving a detailed account of the background of the case. The university does not plan to appeal the decision.

It’s extremely rare for an Ivy League institution to get caught up in a flap over NCAA rules violations. Only three other Ivy programs have been sanctioned by the NCAA since 1953, when the association started keeping such records. The most recent was in 1974, when the NCAA placed Cornell on probation for recruiting violations in its men’s ice-hockey program. A few months later, “unethical conduct” by coaching staff members on the men’s basketball team, among other missteps, triggered an additional year of probation.

Yale has the distinct honor of being the first Ivy to run afoul of NCAA rules. Those sanctions came in 1970, when the Bulldogs allowed a basketball player to participate in “unauthorized, outside, organized basketball competition during the summer of 1969,” according to the public report. The NCAA placed Yale on probation for two years and banned the Bulldogs from postseason competition and television appearances.

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