Student-Athlete Issues

A student-athlete's life is full of strict schedules, rigorous training, and long hours of studying. Student-athletes must live up to the demands set forth by not only their university but also the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and other sports governing bodies. That's not to mention the pressure of performing for coaches, teammates, and fans.

Student-athletes make many sacrifices just for the opportunity to leave it all on the field on game day. Unfortunately, many college careers come to a screeching halt due to simple mistakes. An academic or NCAA violation can strip a student-athlete of their status in the blink of an eye.

Student-athletes guilty of an NCAA, university, or legal offense face strict consequences. A rule violation can lead to suspension, a loss of a scholarship, and even removal from the team. Sanctions can even jeopardize a student-athlete's future. Many high-profile athletes have missed out on the chance to pursue a career in sports due to NCAA violations.

If you're a student-athlete facing a rule violation, you need to know what you're up against. Since you are liable to both NCAA and university rules, the disciplinary process can be quite complicated.

An experienced defense attorney can help you sort through the confusion and get your life back on track. Joseph D. Lento has spent many years fighting on behalf of student-athletes and protecting their rights. Here's a summary of how schools and the NCAA respond to student-athlete violations and how an attorney can help.

Student-Athlete NCAA Violations

Student-athletes caught violating NCAA rules are subject to its disciplinary proceedings. The NCAA enforcement committee decides punishments on a case-by-case basis. Since the penalties vary depending on the facts of the case, the NCAA does not create a case precedent for rule violations. Instead, the NCAA enforcement committee will investigate offenses before deciding on penalties.

The NCAA previously characterized rule violations as either major or secondary. The NCAA recently changed to a tiered structure to provide more flexibility throughout the enforcement process.

The NCAA violation structure establishes four different levels of offenses for student-athletes. The violation level depends on the severity of the violation and the nature of the offense. The enforcement committee adheres to this structure to help them coordinate student-athlete punishments.

The NCAA Division 1 violation structure is as follows:

Level 1: These violations are a severe breach of conduct. They seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the sport. Level 1 violations give or are intended to give a substantial competitive or other advantages. The NCAA determines that these offenses give a substantial or extensive benefit to athletes.

Examples include:

  • Academic misconduct
  • Unethical conduct
  • Failure to cooperate in an NCAA investigation
  • Intentional violations
  • Multiple Level 2 or Level 3 violations

Level 2: These violations are a significant breach of conduct. They give or are intended to give “more than a minimal but less than a substantial” competitive or other advantages. Level 2 violations involve conduct that may compromise the integrity of the sport.

Examples include:

  • Failure to monitor
  • Multiple recruiting, financial aid, or eligibility violations
  • Violations that do not amount to lack of institutional control
  • Collective Level 3 violations

Level 3: These violations are a breach of conduct. Under NCAA guidelines, Level 3 violations are isolated in nature. They provide only a limited competitive, impermissible benefit, or other advantages.

Examples include:

  • Inadvertent violations that are limited in nature
  • Financial aid, academic eligibility, and recruiting violations that create only minimal advantages.

Level 4: Level 4 violations are technical in nature. A conference office processes these violations, and the NCAA is not involved.

Common Student-Athlete Issues

Student-athletes must abide by both their school code of conduct as well as NCAA guidelines. Violating either of these policies can have severe consequences that threaten eligibility as both a student and an athlete. Here are some of the types of offenses that can result in punishment.

Academic Misconduct

Academic misconduct rules vary from school to school. Generally, it refers to any act that gives a student an unfair academic advantage. It commonly refers to cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, bribery, or disrupting a classroom.

Schools typically outline their specific academic misconduct policies and penalties in their codes of conduct. Violations can hurt a school's reputation and undermine the learning process. As a result, schools frequently invoke strict punishments for students caught violating their policies. Depending on the circumstances, academic misconduct can also be an NCAA violation subject to additional sanctions.

Sexual Misconduct

Title IX is a national policy that requires universities to provide students with an environment that is free from sex discrimination. According to Title IX, sexual misconduct is a form of sex discrimination. Title IX's new guidelines define sexual misconduct as sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

The Department of Education requires all schools to thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. Universities must hold a live hearing to review evidence before deciding punishment. A sexual misconduct offense can lead to suspension, expulsion, loss of a scholarship, and many other issues that follow you for years to come.

Taking Banned Substances

The NCAA administers tests to student-athletes year-round to ensure the fairness of its sports. NCAA guidelines require student-athletes to take tests to detect steroids, peptide hormones, and masking agents. During championships, they also test for drugs and stimulants.

The NCAA prohibits student-athletes from taking the following banned substances:

  • Stimulants
  • Anabolic agents
  • Alcohol/beta-blockers
  • Diuretics/masking agents
  • Narcotics
  • Cannabinoids including marijuana
  • Peptide hormones/growth substances
  • Hormone and metabolic modulators
  • Beta-2 agonists

Student-athletes have a right to challenge the results of a positive drug test. Issues like a false positive can derail your academic and athletic career. An attorney can help you push back if you are charged with taking a banned substance.

Failure to Comply with Process

The NCAA can not only punish student-athletes for violating its rules, but it can also penalize people for harming investigations. NCAA bylaws state that failure to comply with investigations is unethical conduct and subject to punishment.

The NCAA Investigation Resource Guide states that student-athletes must cooperate fully with investigations by doing the following:

  • Report instances of noncompliance
  • Assist in developing full information
  • Participate in interviews and provide truthful responses
  • Provide access to electronic devices, social media, messaging, and other applications
  • Preserve the integrity of an investigation

According to NCAA Division 1 enforcement guidelines, student-athletes may not refuse to participate in an investigation interview. They must also produce information upon request. Student-athletes may face additional punishments if the committee discovers they provided false or misleading information that negatively impacts the investigation.

NCAA Enforcement Procedure

The NCAA decides whether or not to investigate rules violations on a case-by-case basis. The NCAA enforcement staff will use relevant information, documentation, and evidence to determine whether a violation occurred.

The Division I Enforcement Internal Operating Procedure establishes that the Committee on Infractions will investigate all Level 1 and Level 2 violations. The committee's infraction process helps to maintain the NCAA's integrity and hold students accountable to its rules.

Here is the NCAA's Division 1 Infraction Process:


Investigation participants include NCAA's enforcement staff, the school, and involved individuals. During investigations, the enforcement staff reviews information and works with the school to determine if a rule violation occurred. They will close the case if they decide the student committed no violation. If the staff finds a violation, the investigation moves into the resolution stage. Resolutions also involve the Committee on Infractions.

Negotiated Resolution

Student-athletes can reduce potential punishments through a negotiated resolution. These resolutions occur when the parties agree on the violations, level and classification, penalties, and facts of the case. Student-athletes who negotiate a resolution lose their opportunity to appeal the decision.

Summary Disposition Track

A summary disposition track occurs when parties agree to the facts and level of the case. The parties submit a report to the Committee on Infractions, who make a decision and issue penalties. Student-athletes may appeal the penalties.

Hearing Track

A hearing track occurs when student-athletes challenge allegations against them. The Committee on Infractions works with the parties to review the relevant information. They determine the violations and penalties. Student-athletes can also appeal these penalties.

Independent Accountability Resolution Process

In certain circumstances, a student-athlete investigation moves into an independent accountability resolution process. The NCAA typically reserves this process for especially complex cases. A complex case unit and independent resolution panel investigate the case and come to a decision. Student-athletes do not have an opportunity to appeal these penalties.

The NCAA uses an elaborate investigation process to investigate misconduct. Unfortunately, many student-athletes fail to take proper steps to defend themselves. If you've been accused of an NCAA violation, it's essential to contact an attorney. Even a minor mistake can derail your case and lead to life-changing penalties. An attorney can work with you to preserve your rights, present the facts, and appeal punishments that don't fit the crime.

School Disciplinary Procedure

Although the NCAA abides by a strict enforcement procedure, schools also have their own investigation process. A student-athlete may be liable to penalties by both the NCAA and their university for the same offense.

Every university has a set process for investigating academic misconduct. Students must adhere to the school's investigation process and penalties for an academic misconduct offense, regardless of whether or not they are an athlete. Your school's academic misconduct policy should be available online or in a student handbook.

Depending on the severity of the case, the university may schedule a meeting with an academic advisor to discuss the alleged violation. The NCAA also employs faculty athletics representatives to help student-athletes work through academic misconduct issues. These representatives are a liaison between the university and athletic programs. They may report academic misconduct to an NCAA compliance officer to begin a separate investigation process.

For more serious allegations, schools typically hold a disciplinary hearing to determine the outcome of the case. These hearings provide universities the opportunity to review evidence and students an opportunity to defend themselves. Under Title IX rules, universities must hold a disciplinary investigation to address all allegations of sexual misconduct.

Disciplinary hearings play an important role in determining your status as a student-athlete. If your school finds you guilty of academic or sexual misconduct, you will likely face severe consequences. The determination may lead to probation, suspension, a loss of financial aid, or expulsion.

The NCAA may also launch its enforcement procedure depending on the circumstances. If academic misconduct is also an NCAA rules violation, you will have to apply for student-athlete reinstatement. You may lose your athlete eligibility and be barred from participating in team events until you reinstate your eligibility.

It's crucial to prepare for your school's disciplinary hearing. Many schools provide students with the right to use an advisor to assist them through this difficult process. Although you have many choices, a defense attorney is your best option for an advisor. Lawyers have the legal know-how and experience necessary to form a defense and navigate the complexities of the investigation.

Potential Punishments

An academic or NCAA violation can put your future at risk. Universities and the NCAA take their rules very seriously. A rule violation can have both immediate and long-term ramifications. Although punishments depend on the facts of the case, student-athletes face many of the same penalties. Here are some of the common consequences of breaking school or NCAA rules.

Loss of Scholarship

Many student-athletes rely on college athletic scholarships. These scholarships can cover the many costs and fees of attending a university, including tuition, room, and board. NCAA Division 1 and 2 schools provide over 180,000 student-athletes more than $3.6 billion in athletics scholarships every year.

The NCAA can take away a scholarship at a moment's notice. Most athletic scholarships are for only one academic year. Coaches typically decide whether or not to renew an athlete's scholarship. They may decide to terminate a scholarship for a variety of reasons, including academic performance, misconduct, and even injury.

Losing a scholarship can be extremely costly. A scholarship dispute not only jeopardizes your status with the team, but it also impacts your ability to attend your university. Student-athletes typically have the right to appeal non-renewals. An attorney-advisor can help you determine the next steps if you lose your scholarship.

Athlete Ineligibility

An enforcement investigation can lead to student-athlete eligibility issues. When a student-athlete is guilty of a violation, the school may deem them ineligible from participating in athletics. The school may submit a reinstatement request to the NCAA national office staff.

The NCAA Reinstatement Committee reviews the request and makes a determination. They can either choose to reinstate the athlete, reinstate the athlete with conditions, or not reinstate the athlete. Eligibility issues can threaten your playing career. Even being briefly ineligible can derail your season and impact your long-term future on your team. An attorney can challenge eligibility issues and move swiftly to help you achieve reinstatement.

Academic Sanctions

An academic misconduct offense can lead to a laundry list of potential sanctions. Breaking a university code of conduct can lead to academic probation, suspension, or expulsion. Student violations can also lead to a loss of financial aid or access to campus housing.

Violations frequently appear on student's long-term records. Records of misconduct can cause issues in pursuing graduate programs or other education.

Threat to Career

Do you have big dreams of going pro? Many student-athletes use their athletic performance to showcase their abilities and draw interest from professional sports teams.

It's no secret that professional sports leagues are highly competitive. Few student-athletes actually make it to the pros. If you want to pursue a career in professional sports, it's important to maintain an impeccable record. Even minor NCAA rule violations may make the difference in deciding your future.

Professional sports teams frequently look at factors outside of athletic performance in making personnel decisions. Legal trouble, NCAA violations, or academic sanctions can hurt even the best athlete's chances of going pro.

Academic and athletic violations also threaten careers that fall outside of the sports industry. You may experience trouble finding employment if you are guilty of serious offenses. Whether or not you desire to go pro, an attorney can protect your career.

Damage to Reputation

Student-athletes don't always have a level playing field. Since they are in the public eye, student-athletes often face more scrutiny than their fellow students. They play under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages.

This exposure can make it even more important to protect your reputation. Many student-athletes have dealt with high-profile disputes. Legal battles and disciplinary hearings frequently become public knowledge. Student-athletes may deal with media scrutiny. A blow to their reputation can follow them around long after they've ended their playing career.

As a student-athlete, it's important to protect your image. An attorney can not only help you achieve a positive outcome in your case, but they can also work to provide anonymity. Any information you share with an attorney will remain secret and confidential.

What Are Student-Athlete Rights?

If you're facing a potential punishment, it's crucial that you are aware of your rights. Many student-athletes do not know how to push back against charges and penalties. Cases can often get complicated, especially when they involve multiple disciplinary hearings and procedures. Student-athletes might also feel intimidated to challenge university or NCAA officials.

Knowing your rights is your first step in fighting back against potential sanctions. The NCAA and universities provide student-athletes with due process during investigations. These rights allow student-athletes to properly defend themselves against allegations. For example, student-athletes have the right to a fair hearing in NCAA and university investigations.

Organizations must also provide student-athletes with notice of disciplinary actions. The NCAA and university must notify students ahead of disciplinary hearings to allow them to defend themselves. In many cases, student-athletes have the right to appeal determinations and challenge punishments.

Students must also receive notice of any changes to scholarships. For example, if a student-athlete's scholarship is not renewed for the following school year, the school must notify the athlete in writing by July first. The school must also provide an opportunity to appeal.

University codes of conduct typically provide an overview of student rights in disciplinary procedures. The NCAA Enforcement Internal Operating Procedures guide details student-athlete rights.

Student-athletes also have the right to an advisor in investigations. The NCAA Investigation Resource Guide provides the following rule for interviewers during investigations:

“The representative should advise the interview on the record that he or she may have personal legal counsel present and of the interviewee's obligation (if applicable) to provide truthful and complete information.”

Infringement of Rights

Many student-athletes are treated unfairly by either their university or the NCAA. In many cases, student-athletes find themselves on the wrong side of a biased determination.

Athletic programs may make decisions based on their own best interest and not the best interest of the student-athlete. Universities can also go to extreme measures to protect their reputation. They may deliver an unfair punishment to make an example of the student-athlete and dispel notions of preferential treatment of athletic programs.

In other scenarios, investigators may fail to provide student-athletes with due process.

The NCAA Investigation Resource Guide has a list of the most common errors made during investigations. Examples include:

  • Failure to notify student-athletes of Bylaw 10.1, which outlines the punishment for providing false or misleading information
  • Failure to submit the necessary information
  • Failure to state specifically the violation and bylaws violated
  • Failure to identify and collect all relevant documentation
  • Failure to include information from all parties who corroborate or refute the allegations

You may think you do not have the right to challenge allegations made by your coach, your university, or the NCAA. If you're facing a rule violation, you do have recourse. You should contact an attorney to determine your next steps. They can help you identify violations of your rights, which could have a major impact on the outcome of your case.

The Appeals Process

The NCAA and universities provide defendants the ability to appeal decisions. Depending on the circumstance, you may be able to request an appeal. An appeal can help you reduce your charge and punishments. Your school's code of conduct typically provides details on how to appeal a decision. It will include information on the timeline and procedures for an appeal.

The NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee determines whether or not a student-athlete can appeal an NCAA decision. The committee includes five members who review the facts of the case. They do not typically consider new evidence in their decision, except in limited circumstances.

According to the NCAA infractions appeal process, the committee will only reverse Level 1 or Level 2 violations in the following circumstances:

  • A factual finding is clearly contrary to the evidence presented to the Committee on Infractions panel
  • The facts found by the Committee on Infractions panel do not constitute an NCAA rules violation
  • There was a procedural error that impacted the Committee on Infractions conclusion
  • The Committee on Infractions panel erred when delivering a penalty

If you believe you are the victim of an unfair determination, you should speak with a defense attorney. An attorney can facilitate discussions with officials and take action steps to begin the appeals process.

How an Attorney Can Help

Some student-athletes make the mistake of facing NCAA and college and university proceeding and sanctions alone. They may also turn to close friends or family members to help them navigate this difficult process. Do no make this mistake.

If you're facing a rule violation, you should contact an attorney right away. Many NCAA and college and university offenses can have life-changing consequences for student-athletes. With such high stakes, it's critical that you turn to someone qualified to defend you.

Student-athlete attorneys have the experience expertise necessary to handle complex investigation processes. They also have a keen understanding of the law as it relates to student-athletes. An experienced lawyer can help you every step of the way during disciplinary hearings and administrative proceedings with the NCAA and other sports governing bodies. Not only can they prepare a defense, but they can also identify potential pitfalls that can negatively impact your determination.

Student-athletes often face many more barriers than their fellow students. A defense attorney can help you challenge biased investigations and appeal unfair determinations. By using an attorney, you can give yourself the best chance of receiving a favorable outcome.

Your Experienced Attorney for School and NCAA Proceedings

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has spent many years helping student-athletes address and resolve school-related issues and concerns and defending student-athletes accused of misconduct. As an experienced defense attorney highly skilled in successfully navigating school and administrative proceedings unique to student-athletes, he works tirelessly to dispute allegations and reduce charges. Standing up when the bell rings on behalf of clients across the United States, Joseph D. Lento and the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have gained a reputation as some of the fiercest advocates for students in the country.

Don't let a mistake decide your fate. Take control of your future by contacting the Lento Law Firm. Call us at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation today.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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