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CWC says it has resolved athletic eligibility issues

Apr 18, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

In October, the National Junior College Athletic Association notified the school that two of its volleyball players had previously played professionally.

Officials at Central Wyoming College say they have resolved the school's athletic eligibility issues identified in October by the National Junior College Athletic Association.

"We are ready to move forward," CWC president Jo Anne McFarland said Wednesday. "We believe we can do so holding our heads high."

The NJCAA notified CWC last fall that two students who were part of the college volleyball team during the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons had previously played professionally for the Superliga of the Brazilian Confederation of Volleyball. NJCAA rules specifically state that student-athletes could not have participated in that organization in the past.

An investigation later revealed another student on the volleyball team may have violated similar rules, though officials couldn't confirm her ineligibility. And an additional audit of all student-athletes over the past six years showed one international student who played for the CWC men's basketball team during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons had been ineligible because of his participation in at least one professional team in Europe.

Sanctions approved

After the initial volleyball violations were announced in October, the NJCAA ordered CWC to forfeit all of its volleyball victories for the past three seasons - more than 60 in all - and ruled that the Rustlers could not compete in the Region IX volleyball tournament in the postseason.

When the investigation was completed early this year, CWC imposed additional sanctions on itself. No international students will be recruited to CWC's athletic teams for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, officials said, and the school now requires that all international student-athletes take the Test of English as a Foreign Language to ensure they understand any documents they are asked to sign. Staff will review the organizational structure and job duties within the school's athletic department, and administrators said they already plan to put the registration and records office in charge of athletic eligibility documentation from now on. CWC officials also recommended that employees responsible for NJCAA eligibility determinations participate in annual training on NJCAA rules.

Those penalties were accepted this month by NJCAA officials, who said they do not plan to impose any additional sanctions on the school. In an April 1 letter, NJCAA assistant executive director Brian D. Beck complimented CWC on the professional manner in which the school has handled the issue.

"I appreciate everything you have done related to this incident," Beck said in the letter. "It is a member college's decision to actively recruit foreign student-athletes. As you have discovered over the past six months, a higher level of scrutiny must be conducted to ensure the foreign athletes meet the same evaluative standards as domestic student-athletes do."

McFarland acknowledged that the school still has work to do to develop and strengthen its internal processes and structures in the athletic department.

"That work includes developing an overarching philosophy of academic athletics and spending the necessary time to create and implement and monitor policies and procedures that are written, that are enforced consistently, and that exhibit high standards," McFarland said.

The school will apply to the NJCAA this spring to request the probation be removed, she added.

"I think we can move forward and rebuild an even better athletic program that we will all be proud of," McFarland said.

Wood agreed, calling the experience "a springboard for success for the future."

"(We continue) to work hard on a daily basis on the things we've committed to," Wood said, giving credit to assistant dean Steve Barlow and Jennifer Rey, the executive director of human resources at CWC, for their work through the process. "I believe our approach will serve as a basis to strengthen our athletics program, hopefully to the point where we can consider additional sports."

After the meeting, Wood said CWC doesn't have plans to bring on new sports at this time.

"We're not at that point yet," Wood said. "But whether it's three months, six months or five years from now, I hope we have a strong enough athletic department that we can look at additional sports (in the future)."

CWC Board of Trustees chairman Charlie Krebs complimented Wood and his staff for their response to the violations.

"I think you need to be commended," Krebs said. "We met it head on, and that's the way to do it, just be honest."

Earlier this year Wood said CWC staff didn't know about the students' ineligibility to play on the volleyball team during the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons. He said staff conducted eligibility searches for the four international student-athletes who played for the volleyball team during that timeframe, but no records exist to document independent efforts to verify or confirm eligibility status for two of the four international student-athletes. He said the basketball player in question initially was cleared by the CWC athletic department and later was cleared by the NJCAA as eligible. Regardless, Wood said the NJCAA does not require intentional misconduct in citing a violation.

"It's not whether we knew or intended to break the rules - it's simply that the rule was broken," Wood said. "We recognize it was a failure of the institution."

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