December 20 2017
On December 15, 2017, the NCAA hit the University of Northern Colorado’s men’s basketball team with sanctions for the former head coach and other staff members completing coursework and paying tuition for poorly performing prospects. Additionally, one player was given extra, off-site practice.
Specifically, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions found that the former head coach, B. J. Hill, was fueled by his want to “succeed at any cost.” To accomplish this goal, as well as follow his high-performing predecessor’s footsteps, Hill recruited many assistant coaches and a graduate assistant to break the NCAA’s rules to guarantee eligibility of the players. The NCAA panel found that Hill took shortcuts and put his own self-interest and ambitions above student-athlete welfare. Hill brought in talent that was academically ineligible, and then violated NCAA ethical conduct legislation to ensure the students’ eligibility. In its decision, the panel determined that since 2010 Hill and other staff completed coursework for at least three prospects, and gave the ineligible prospects financial aid and travel expenses they were not authorized to. Additionally, Hill and two assistant coaches paid $5,000 of tuition for two prospects and had staff train an ineligible student-athlete off-campus. The panel held that Hill fell far below the standard the association holds head coaches and nurtured a culture that condoned shortcuts and the guided staff by a “get it done” principle. Hill, five assistant coaches, and a graduate assistant were each issued show cause orders for their violations. Hill was fired in April 2016 following an investigation by the university and the NCAA.
The program itself received several penalties as well. The panel placed a three-year probation from December 15, 2017 to December 14, 2020 on the team, and ordered the team return the money the school earned from the 2011 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The program must also vacate all regular season, conference, and post season wins in which ineligible student-athletes participated. Despite the violations, the NCAA panel praised the university’s cooperation in the investigation, stating, “Northern Colorado, under the strong leadership of its president, set an example for all member institutions in its handling of this case.” In addition to the NCAA’s sanctions, the university self-imposed sanctions of a 2016-2017 postseason ban for the team, scholarship reductions for the academic years of 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, and recruiting restrictions. In addressing the sanctions, the university president, Kay Norton, stated, “[w]hen we started this process, I pledged that regardless of what emerged from the investigation that we would take responsibility, do our best to make amends and move forward. With the leadership of head coach Jeff Linder, that’s what we’ve been doing and what we will continue to do.”