The following was delivered to the Susquehanna University community on Saturday August 8th, 2016.
For more than 150 years, each generation of the Susquehanna University community has stood on the shoulders of those who came before it, and has been guided by a set of enduring principles. Among our core values is that each of us has a personal, ethical responsibility. We take that commitment seriously and we equally value transparency, and that is why I am writing to you today. While the situation I am about to describe is disappointing, we discovered it, we are addressing it, and we will move beyond it.
Over the past year, the University has been investigating a potential major violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III bylaws. I want to share the details of that investigation, which the university initiated, as well as the actions we have taken since confirming that a violation occurred. We have followed a fair process to determine the underlying facts. I am providing this information to you now because we recently reached agreement with NCAA staff around the violation, which has been confirmed and because we shared this information with the members of the football team and their parents earlier this morning at the start of fall football camp.
Here are the specifics: On August 14, 2015, during a fundraising phone call with Director of Athletics Pamela Samuelson, Vice President for University Relations Ron Cohen, and Head Football Coach Tom Perkovich, an alumnus, who at the time was a member of the Board of Trustees (alumnus/trustee), inquired about the status of a tuition payment for a football student-athlete. The comment raised concerns. That same day, the University’s financial services office received a cashier’s check for payment of the football student-athlete’s tuition bill, which had been overdue. A member of the financial services staff became suspicious and reported the issue to University administrators.
These circumstances raised questions, especially when seen together, and prompted an internal discussion and an internal review of documents. It was soon determined that the University would benefit from outside expertise to help uncover the facts and determine whether any NCAA bylaws were violated. In particular, we were concerned about a violation of NCAA bylaws 15.01.2 and 15.01.4 regarding improper financial aid and contributions by a donor: Any student-athlete who receives financial aid other than that permitted by the Association shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics and it is not permissible for a donor to contribute funds to finance scholarship or gift aid for student- athletes. On September 1, 2015, the University retained as special counsel Bond, Schoeneck & King, one of the leading national law firms specializing in NCAA investigations, to work with our general counsel on an investigation into the matter. That investigation took place over three weeks and included a review of documents, as well as interviews with the alumnus/trustee and one of the student-athlete’s parents. The parent denied having received any assistance in paying the tuition bill, and the alumnus/trustee denied knowledge of the payment. Following the September investigation, on advice from special counsel and Michael Coyne, Co-Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Finance and Administration, I concluded that without other avenues to determine all the facts, we did not have sufficient information to move forward at that time. We agreed to put the investigation on hold and monitor the situation for any new information that might surface.
In February 2016, Susquehanna alumnus Nick Lopardo told head football Coach Tom Perkovich and one of his assistant coaches that he, Mr. Lopardo, was the reason one of the team’s star players was able to compete in 2015. The coaches notified Dr. Samuelson, who immediately notified me. Special counsel, along with Mr. Coyne and I, briefed the Board of Trustees on February 29. The following day, with definitive evidence of the suspected violation, we self-reported it to the NCAA enforcement staff and immediately resumed our investigation.
Over the next 12 weeks, the University worked cooperatively with the NCAA to further look into the potential impermissible benefits. Investigators conducted additional interviews with those closest to the situation. During the course of these interviews, several facts became evident that contradicted some of the statements made during the September 2015 interviews. We confirmed that improper conduct had occurred. Mr. Lopardo admitted to providing funds that were used to pay the student-athlete’s bill after he had been contacted by one of the student-athlete’s parents. He characterized the payment as a loan. Regardless of whether it was a gift or a loan, the payment was a violation of NCAA DIII rules. Mr. Lopardo denied sharing this information with Coach Perkovich. The circumstances were further complicated because Mr. Joe Palchak, the alumnus/trustee referenced earlier, admitted he had knowledge of the situation and had not been forthcoming when questioned last fall.
The NCAA and the University administration believe the facts of this case are clear. The tuition payment is classified as a major violation of NCAA rules and regulations. The University and the NCAA have formally agreed that the student-athlete, without his knowledge, received an impermissible benefit in the form of a payment of his educational expenses by Mr. Lopardo. The institution and NCAA have concluded that there is no evidence at this time of impermissible benefits being provided to other student-athletes.
The NCAA has offered the University the option of adjudicating the matter through summary disposition. This is a cooperative effort to expedite a resolution without a hearing. It is an option that is possible when the facts are not in dispute and there is agreement on the NCAA bylaws violated. In summary disposition, the University proposes what it believes are appropriate penalties and remedies. These must be approved by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, which may adjust the sanctions or impose additional sanctions. However, we are confident that the penalties already self-imposed are consistent with precedent and with the Committee’s expectations. This process is likely to continue for several more months.
The Board of Trustees has been fully briefed on the matter. As authorized by the board, the chair and five vice chairs approved the following self-imposed sanctions, which are based on the advice of counsel with deep knowledge of NCAA policies and precedents. The Board’s Executive Committee ratified the following: Declaring the student-athlete ineligible with mandated NCAA requirements for reinstatement (He must complete 50 hours of community service to a charity and serve a three-game suspension.) Vacating all five victories from the 2015 football season The 2016 football team will not be permitted postseason participation (including the NCAA Division III Championship and the two bowl games open to members of the Centennial Conference); and Placing the University’s football program on two years of probation, during which we will be required to provide periodic reports to the NCAA.
In addition to these penalties, which involve only the football team, the board has taken action regarding Mr. Lopardo and Mr. Palchak. This action is also consistent with NCAA precedent and expectations. Mr. Lopardo has been permanently disassociated from the University’s athletic program. This means he can have no involvement with the Department of Athletics and his name will be removed from the University’s football stadium. The University has offered to return the gift from Mr. Lopardo that resulted in his name being applied to the stadium. Mr. Palchak, who has admitted to not being fully forthcoming during the investigation, has resigned from the University’s Board of Trustees and has been disassociated from the Department of Athletics for a period of five years.
I am saddened on many levels. But perhaps my greatest disappointment is for the outstanding young men in our football program and our tremendous coaching staff, led by Coach Perkovich. Coach Perkovich stands tall, as a person of integrity, who acted in a manner that is an example for all of us.
The Board of Trustees and I are so very proud that he is our coach. The Board of Trustees and I also take some measure of comfort, as we hope each of you do, in knowing that our oversight and systems worked. Our compliance procedures led to the discovery and self-reporting of this violation. Every member of our staff cooperated fully and acted with the utmost integrity.
But we can always do better. We have further strengthened our compliance education and monitoring programs for all alumni and donors, and we will continue to do so in the years ahead.
Today is a difficult day for our community, but I believe we will be stronger as a result of our response to this incident. I know you will join me in cheering on our student-athletes and coaches this fall. Susquehanna remains committed to the core principles we have long been known for as protectors of amateurism, sportsmanship, and integrity in intercollegiate athletics. Together, we will live up to our mission and our values and continue to ensure the integrity of our institution.
L. Jay Lemons