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Caltech, of all teams, faces major NCAA sanctions

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Caltech players celebrate a 46-45 win over Occidental College last year. (AP)

At a time when agents fund AAU programs, boosters bribe top recruits and shoe-apparel companies hire parents of elite prospects as consultants, it's nice to know the NCAA has its priorities in order.

On Thursday, it put Caltech in its crosshairs.

The academic-oriented Division III school received a public reprimand, three years of probation and a 2012-13 postseason ban in men's basketball and 11 other sports for using 30 ineligible student-athletes the past four years.

At issue is Caltech's unique academic policy allowing students to shop for courses during a three-week period each quarter before cementing their class schedules. Since many students weren't registered for all the classes they attended during that period, that meant under NCAA rules they were not considered full-time students when they took the field.

Under a strict interpretation of NCAA rules, Caltech probably did indeed err in letting the athletes in question participate without being enrolled full time, but a little common sense suggests the penalties are way too harsh.

This is not a case of Caltech trying to get an unfair advantage on its opponents. Athletics is simply such a low priority at the school that school officials probably didn't spend enough time educating players or coaches about the intricacies of these rules.

The idea of Caltech fielding teams full of academically ineligible players is almost laughable considering the school's course load and monumentally high academic standards are often the biggest reasons the athletic department struggles. The baseball team has lost 237 consecutive games. The water polo team snapped a nine-year losing streak last year. And the men's basketball team went 310 conference games without a win, a 26-year streak that mercifully ended with a one-point win over Occidental College last February.

Ryan Elmquist, the future software engineer who was the hero of that lone victory, told Yahoo! Sports last year that he almost gave up basketball before the season because it was cutting into his study time.

"There have definitely been nights where I was up all night doing a midterm or a problem set and then I'd have a game or practice the next day on no sleep," Elmquist said. "A lot of times you don't feel like playing at all, but you find a way to motivate yourself to do it."

The only good news for Caltech is the basketball team's lone conference victory was legal and won't be vacated. And the Beavers can be thankful for that because who knows how long it will be before they get another one.

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