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Chris Chase

Princeton's women's tennis team gets hit with 'major' violation

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USC football isn't the only sports program in trouble with the NCAA. Improbably, the Princeton women's tennis team recently ran afoul of college sports' governing body as well.

Last week the NCAA reported that an alumnus of the Ivy League university paid for a women's tennis player to attend school during the 2007-2008 academic year. The school, which is not allowed to give athletic scholarships, was publicly censured and forced to vacate all of the athlete's individual records.

The Associated Press writes:

The relationship between the student-athlete and Princeton alumnus originated at a local tennis club near their respective homes, where a local club's tennis professional introduced them prior to the student-athlete's ninth-grade year. The relationship developed based on a mutual interest in the sport of tennis and the student-athlete's athletic abilities.

The NCAA said the money the student-athlete received provided the school with a competitive advantage because it allowed the tennis player to attend and participate on the team.

That sounds benign enough, right? Maybe not. Read the paragraph again and replace "tennis" with "basketball" and "Princeton" with "Kentucky." It reads a whole lot different.

Basically, the entire NCAA report was a fancy way of saying that a booster paid for an athlete to attend school. It doesn't matter that the $33,000 went to tuition, it was still $33,000 that the athlete didn't have and $33,000 that wasn't allowed to be given to her. As far as violations go, it's not earth-shattering, but it still deserves more than a slap on the wrist.

I'm not trying to play ethics police here nor am I suggesting that any Princeton official did anything wrong, but it bothers me that the NCAA will cripple the USC football program because Reggie Bush took money, but lets Princeton walk away with "public censure." It's a prime example of the hypocrisy of the organization. The University of Colorado was put on probation for two years because some walk-on football players paid a few dollars less for meals in the cafeteria. Imagine what would have happened if a booster had paid a player to attend the school. Princeton should be thankful it got off as easy as it did.

Princeton sees it differently. In a statement, president Shirley Tilghman took a defiant stance against the NCAA (maybe it's because her school became the first Ivy League member in 36 years to get hit with a major sanction):

"We looked closely at the circumstances surrounding this isolated and inadvertent infraction and at the relationship between the alumnus and the student's family, and we are convinced that even though the alumnus is a longtime supporter of tennis at Princeton, he was acting only with the interest of helping a family friend pursue an educational opportunity for which her parents were not willing to provide financial support."

Inadvertent? A booster writing a check to Princeton to pay for an athlete that isn't allowed to get a scholarship seems to be the definition of advertent. It doesn't matter that it's isolated or that the parents couldn't afford it. That's a violation, and a major one at that. There's no good intentions out-clause in the rules.

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