- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

University of the District of Columbia President William L. Pollard has forced the school’s athletic director to resign because of his department’s apparent misuse of funds and violation of rules governing collegiate sports, school officials said.

Michael A. McLeese, athletic director and head coach of the men’s basketball team, stepped down last week from the $89,226-a-year director’s job in what the administration called a “restructuring” to improve operations and ensure compliance with National Collegiate Athletic Association rules.

In a deal struck with the administration, Mr. McLeese keeps the coaching job at an annual salary of $72,425. But school officials said he will be fired, as stipulated by his new contract, if the NCAA cites him for unethical conduct.

The Washington Times first reported in November that the NCAA was investigating purported improprieties in the land-grant university’s sports department, including academically ineligible students playing on UDC teams, misuse of financial-aid funds, and mismanagement of proceeds from ticket and concessions sales at Firebirds’ games.

School officials expect the NCAA to issue a report by year’s end that will be highly critical of the athletic program.

“There are clearly problems,” Mr. Pollard’s spokesman, Mike Andrews, said. “We are vigilant as to potential problems in the athletic department and we think [Mr. McLeese’s resignation] is a step in the right direction.”

Mr. McLeese did not return calls seeking comment.

The athletic department’s problems are the latest in a series of hardships at the District’s only public university, which, in past years, has struggled with financial mismanagement, poor academic performance and accreditation concerns.

Last year, the NCAA penalized the school for using ineligible players on the men’s soccer and basketball teams. The university had to forfeit nearly every men’s soccer game played last season, including the team’s appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament — the school’s first postseason appearance since the women’s basketball team qualified in 1995.

Some members of the UDC faculty senate, which has been pushing for reforms of the athletic program since Mr. Pollard arrived on campus, called Mr. McLeese’s demotion a “half-step” measure to fix the ailing department.

“His resignation is just an appeasement to those who question the quality of the athletic program,” a member of the UDC senate said on the condition of anonymity. “It’s just damage control.”

The sports program was high on the agenda at the Sept. 14 meeting of the faculty senate, a governing body composed of 34 faculty members elected from each academic department.

Sydney O. Hall, senate president and chairman of the athletics committee, told the group he was disappointed that the administration had ignored its February report recommending corrective measures for the department.

The recommendations included putting the athletic program on four years’ probation, reducing the number of athletic scholarships, placing a moratorium on postseason play during the probation, and conducting a “thorough evaluation” of all the athletic department staff members.

Mr. McLeese’s resignation took effect two days after the senate meeting, but was not announced until Tuesday.

Still, faculty complain that it took Mr. Pollard more than two years to address the problems in the athletic department.

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