Kean University’s Harwood Arena floor Credit: Sara Ridgway
By Sara Ridgway | April 29, 2016
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) notified Kean University on April 22 that it has lifted a four-year-long probation on its athletics department following a scandal involving the Division III women’s basketball team.
The announcement ends a chapter for Kean athletics, which has been on probation since 2012 due to infractions of NCAA rules that revolved around the women’s basketball team, its former head basketball coach Michele Sharp, the former athletic director and the former vice president of academic affairs.
The NCAA charged that Kean improperly created a course offered only to members of the then-winning Division III women’s basketball team —non-student athletes were not eligible — as part of their European Tour and used money from the Kean University Aid Fund to do so.
Kean was also accused of changing a players’ grade to allow her to meet academic eligibility, provided loans, cash payments and scholarships to players, and failed to involve athletic department superiors in decisions made for the women’s basketball program.
The scandal surfaced publicly after former athletic director Glen Hedden filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against Kean, charging he was fired by the college’s administration for reporting the violations to the NCAA. Kean later agreed to settle his case for $1.8 million without admitting any wrongdoing.
The NCAA allegations were summarized in a 2012 report citing Kean for allowing impermissible financial aid, a variety of extra benefits offered to student athletes, impermissible team entertainment, and failure to establish an atmosphere for compliance and inconsistent financial aid packages.
NCAA established that Kean had “a lack of control over its athletics program,” according to the Kean University Public Infractions Report, which provides further details regarding the alleged incidents.
Jack McKiernan, Kean’s current athletic director who was officially appointed in November 2015, provided insight on the four-year probation process.
“We re-evaluated our policies and procedures and put in place checks and balances to maintain our compliance,” McKiernan said. “Too often, departments were working in isolation and were unaware of decisions they could make in another department could affect the eligibility of a student athlete.”
“So breaking down some of those walls, having communication across departments and just having the whole university looking at eligibility and compliance was basically gaining the understanding that student athletes have to be treated the same way as the normal student,” said McKiernan.
Penalties for the infractions were a combination of the universities self-imposed penalties and those enforced by the NCAA. Following the terms of probation, an NCAA sanctions statement was required to be sent to the alumni newsletter. Sending annual reports to the NCAA was also part of the process of being removed from probation, among a laundry list of other penalties.
“We sent six reports to the NCAA over the last four years, basically bringing them up to date on our policies and procedures, what are we doing to improve, all of our staff meeting agendas, all of our education pieces, were evidence to our compliance from then,” McKiernan said.
Further steps were taken by the university through the creation of a compliance committee on campus. McKiernan confirmed that the committee consists of the athletic department, financial aid, scholarship, admissions, and registrar offices. These five departments meet twice a year, reviewing NCAA rules and regulations, therefore maintaining an open line of communication across all divisions of the university.
“We have a heightened sense of compliance,” said McKiernan. “You know that all the coaches and staff members needed to be running things through the athletic director’s office and the compliance office.”
Now that Kean University is officially relieved of probation by the NCAA, McKiernan is looking forward to closing up this chapter and looking on to bigger and better things for the future of Kean Athletics.
“We strived over the last four years to become a model department in division III when it comes to compliance,” McKiernan said. “To take these steps, to put ourselves in a good position and then we wanted in the eyes of the NCAA to be somebody they can point to as a positive university.”