Tiny Caltech faces big-time penalties
‘Shopping’ for courses bites school not known for winning
PASADENA, Calif. -- At Caltech, where the laws of physics are understood, the rules of the NCAA apparently proved elusive.
When the college sports governing body announced sanctions against the California Institute of Technology Thursday, some found it hard to believe that a school where losing streaks can be older than its athletes could be guilty of the kind of corner-cutting associated with athletic powerhouses.
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"It's not like we've got Reggie Bush," said Caltech student Justin Khim, referring to the former USC and current NFL star at the center of the Trojans' troubles. The NCAA issued sanctions in 2010, including a two-year bowl ban, for improper benefits to the Heisman Trophy winner.
Caltech over four years had allowed 30 student athletes who were academically ineligible to play in practice or games in 12 sports, including baseball, basketball, tennis and swimming, the NCAA said.
Just a few students roamed the Caltech campus between summer classes Thursday afternoon, and some said they were barely aware the school had sports teams as they sat and studied in the quad.
Khim, a junior math major, said he follows major college sports, and when he heard about the sanctions said he never thought the same issues that plague many Division I schools would hit the Division III teams on his own campus.
"What are the penalties? I know it's not lost athletic scholarships because we don't have any," Khim said.
Those penalties, many of them self-imposed by the university, include no postseason play next season, three years of probation, one year of no campus recruiting and the vacating of wins and records.
The ban on postseason play, for example, won't have a huge effect for teams just looking to win a game.
Some Beaver teams have become lovable losers in recent years.
The baseball team has lost 237 consecutive games. The water polo team last year ended a losing streak that had lasted nine years.
But nothing can match the basketball team's streak.
The basketball Beavers went 310 conference games without a win, a 26-year streak that began in the mid-1980s and finally ended on Feb. 22, 2011.
The problems came from the school's system of "shopping" for courses, where students attend classes for three weeks at the beginning of a term before registration. That meant that under NCAA rules, some athletes were not considered full-time students when they took the field.
The NCAA blamed a lack of oversight and communication between athletic administrators, coaches and the registrar.
Caltech athletic officials discovered and reported the problems themselves.
The school said in a statement that the violations were inadvertent, and promptly disclosed to the NCAA.
"We very much regret that the high standards we expect of ourselves were not met," the statement said. "We acknowledge our responsibility and have taken all necessary steps to remedy this situation and ensure it does not happen again."
While basketball is among the sanctioned sports, that victory was legal and will remain on the books.
"It stands," Caltech spokeswoman Deborah Williams-Hedges said. "Thank goodness."