Men’s basketball team face NWAC violations
The Northwest Athletic Conference’s recent penalties targeting the UCC men’s basketball program have been described as heavy-handed, but they don’t impact students as strongly as some have feared.
On Dec. 14, 2023, NWAC threatened punishment for breaking several of the league’s policies found in the NWAC Handbook despite UCC’s cooperation during the investigation. Then on March 5, 2023, NWAC made their final decision, losing two UCC scholarships, giving staff probation, fining UCC $15,000 and suspending the men’s basketball team from playoff participation from 2024 to 2025.
The NWAC Codebook, under the Bylaw link on page 38, describes two categories of violations. Category I is “violations that provide only a limited recruiting or competitive advantage,” and Category II is “any violation determined not to be Category I, specifically to include those that might provide an extensive recruiting or competitive advantage.” UCC was given Category I C., Category II B. and D. violations by NWAC.
Since many Riverhawk athletes are only able to afford school with sport scholarships, the loss of scholarships was a concern. “No student will lose a scholarship. Current students will still receive their scholarships,” Rachel Pokrandt, the president of UCC said in an email. “The sanction from the NWAC is that we must reduce the number of scholarships we offer by two for the next two years. This means we will simply have fewer athletes on the team – we will recruit fewer.”
Leo Sewell is a freshman basketball student who understands the importance of sports scholarships. “Obviously not having (as many) scholarships is hard — it’s a scholarship-based sport, and that’s why a lot of kids are playing because you don’t have to pay anything or paid minimal fees.”
Sewell is optimistic about the team’s future. “I mean, obviously that’s hard. But Coach is a great recruiter, so they’ll be able to find ways to get the best players here.”
Sewell believes that academics and sports can affect each other, but these restrictions on the program won’t affect his education. “Academics and sports go head-in-hand. If I don’t do well in the classroom, I don’t play well on the court. I don’t see this affecting my academics. It affects kids’ academics, and maybe those two scholarships go to someone, and now they don’t have a chance to either play in college or go to college because they don’t have that scholarship. But as far as me who was already on, I don’t see the tide right there,” Sewell says.
The NWAC Investigations Committee choose to charge UCC with the more extreme option of the Category I C. penalty which is “a probationary period no less than one year nor more than two years.” The committee chose the two-year probationary period.
“It’s hard as a competitor. It’s hard just ‘cause you obviously want to play in the postseason,” Sewell says. “Honestly, just as the competitor that I am, I want to be able to play for a championship. I think everyone who plays basketball does. If you’re just a winner, you want to play to win, you know?”
Probation from playoff participants for two years would be viewed by many as career-ending in any sport, but Sewell explains that isn’t entirely true. Sewell also expresses that these accusations and penalties placed on the men’s basketball team from NWAC seem to target the students when it’s not the students that have done anything. “I wouldn’t say exactly my entire career. Based on what I read in the article, it (the punishment) wasn’t necessarily about the kids and that punishment really affects the kids, the student-athletes such as myself and my teammates that I played with,” Sewell says. “So, taking away opportunities from student-athletes to compete at the highest level, it’s just hard as an athlete to have stuff like that taken away from you.”
The NWAC’s Coaching Handbook on page 2 says that its mission is “to foster athletic participation in an environment that supports equitable opportunities for students consistent with the educational objectives of member colleges.” The Handbook also states, “The priority is to develop student-athletes through academic and athletic opportunities giving them the experience they deserve.”
“UCC has found many contradictory and confusing areas of the NWAC code during this process and has never purposefully violated any code,” Pokrandt says.
Sewell has had many pro and con experiences overall as a UCC basketball athlete in the NWAC league. “The pro, it’s a competitive league that gets underrated nationally a lot. It’s way better than people think it is, and the talent in it is really good. Con, I feel we’ve still a little targeted with punishments. Not everyone plays by the rules, but I won’t really say there’s a big con,” Sewell says. “I think that in the grand scheme of things, everything the NWAC does is, in a sense, justified. Obviously, we’d like to have different circumstances on our end and we’re fighting for that, but I wouldn’t really have a con against NWAC.”
Pokrandt says, “UCC will always do its best to be compliant with the rules of the athletic leagues we participate in, but those rules will never take precedence over doing what is best for our students.”
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