- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2003

The NCAA has penalized the University of the District of Columbia for using ineligible players on its men’s soccer team, forcing the school’s athletics department to forfeit all of the team’s games played last year.

The soccer team’s violations are symptomatic of “rampant” abuses in UDC’s athletics program, including the widespread use of academically ineligible players and the payment of excessive grant and student aid dollars to athletes, said a university official close to the athletics program.

The forfeitures erase the UDC Firebirds’ entire season from last year’s record books, including the team’s appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament. It was the school’s first NCAA appearance since the women’s basketball team qualified in 1995.

The Firebirds had clawed their way up through Division II rankings since the NCAA imposed a three-year probation on the athletics program in 1991 for 13 violations in five of its nine sports. The team finished the regular season with a 14-4-2 record and was ranked 18th in Division II.

UDC Athletics Director Michael A. McLeese denied Thursday that the NCAA had penalized the school and that the team’s games had been forfeited.

“That’s not correct,” Mr. McLeese told The Washington Times before declining further comment.

However, Lou Talerico, athletics director of Salem International University in West Virginia, said he recently received a letter from UDC giving notice that it was forfeiting the men’s soccer game the two schools played September 11 last year. The Times has obtained a copy of the letter.

The letter, which is dated July 28 and addressed to Salem International’s previous athletics director, Danny Young, states that the NCAA has cited UDC for a secondary violation but gave no further explanation of the offense. The letter is signed by Mr. McLeese, UDC’s athletics director since 1999.

“We don’t look for an explanation from the NCAA about what happens with another team when something happens like this,” said Mr. Talerico, who became Salem International’s athletics director this year.

A UDC official familiar with the violations said a similar letter was sent to each of the 15 schools the UDC men’s soccer team played last year.

An NCAA spokeswoman said the organization does not disclose information about specific cases of secondary violations. She directed inquiries about specific violations to the affected school.

Mr. McLeese was not available for comment yesterday.

UDC soccer coach Osman Orlando did not return a call seeking comment.

Mike Andrews, UDC’s communications director, declined yesterday to provide any information about the nature of the players’ ineligibility or the number of students who played in violation of NCAA rules.

The Firebirds had lost the game against Salem International, but NCAA policy requires all games involving ineligible players, regardless of which team won, to be stricken from the records.

The athletics program’s violations add to the long-standing troubles at the District’s only public institution of higher education, which in past years has been beset by financial mismanagement, poor academic performance and accreditation concerns.

UDC President William L. Pollard was advised of widespread problems in the athletics programs, including the prevalence of ineligible players, when he took the helm of the city’s land-grant university a little more than a year ago, said a university official who asked not to be identified.

Last week, Mr. Pollard boasted about the prowess of UDC’s athletics program — as well as his “town meetings” with students and plans for an honors program — when asked about academic improvements made during his first year.

“I think more importantly was the opportunity to observe our young men and women in the athletic programs where our students excelled,” Mr. Pollard said in an interview on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU-FM (88.5). “We had an excellent year.”

Mr. Pollard did not return calls seeking comment.

UDC’s president this year has been criticized by faculty, students and the D.C. Council about his spending priorities, hiring of friends for high-paying jobs and inattention to maintenance needs at the university.

In addition, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is investigating whether Mr. Pollard violated city ethics laws by hiring a family friend as the school’s provost, even though she apparently lacks the requisite education and experience for the $137,00-a-year post.

UDC was chartered in 1974 as an urban land-grant university with an open admissions policy. As of last year, the university had an enrollment of 5,300 students and a staff of 225 teachers, for a nearly 24-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

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