The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions penalized Princeton for a major violation involving impermissible payment for a women’s tennis player’s educational expenses. According to a Sept. 8 NCAA release, an alumnus provided approximately $33,000 for tuition and books for one varsity player over the course of three semesters in 2007–08. Neither the player nor the alumnus was named.

Two penalties were levied by the committee: public reprimand and censure of the University; and vacation of the student-athlete’s individual records for the three semesters in which the improper aid was provided (fall 2007, spring 2008, and fall 2008). Because the violation was limited in scope and self-reported by the alumnus and the University, the committee “imposed only minimal penalties,” the NCAA statement said, and chose not to put the women’s tennis team on probation.  

The committee said that two factors contributed to its designation of a “major” violation: the amount of money provided, and the “competitive advantage” gained by having the student on Princeton’s team. It was the University’s first major infraction case and the NCAA’s first major censure of an Ivy League school since 1974.

President Tilghman responded to the ruling in a Princeton release, calling the infraction “isolated and inadvertent” and adding that the University does “not believe that this should have been characterized as a major violation.” Ivy League director Robin Harris said that the league does not anticipate additional sanctions beyond those levied by the NCAA.

The Princeton women’s tennis team has won Ivy League titles in the last two seasons under two coaches: Megan Bradley, who joined the program in 2009; and Kathy Sell, who coached the Tigers for five years, including the two in which the NCAA rules violation occurred. The University said that the alumnus in question acted without the knowledge of Princeton’s coaches and athletics ­administrators.

According to the University, the alumnus who made the improper payments was a family friend of the student-athlete and regarded her as “a surrogate daughter in need of financial assistance.” The infraction report quotes the student’s parents, who said they “were not comfortable” with relying on the friend’s assistance, but they recognized that their daughter “might have to forestall her college plans altogether if the offer was declined.”

The alumnus, a former men’s tennis player and a contributor to athletics booster groups, was deemed a “representative of Princeton’s athletics interests,” according to the NCAA report. He became aware of his improper actions in September 2008, when he received an e-mail “compliance update,” sent to boosters by the athletics department. He called the director of athletics to discuss whether his payments had violated NCAA rules. After a brief investigation, the University reported the violation to the NCAA in late November 2008. Beginning in January 2009, the student was forced to sit out the first 20 percent of the 2009 spring tennis season (five matches). The NCAA continued its investigation, which culminated with a hearing in Indianapolis in June 2010.