Thomas More vacates 2015 national title

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Sydney Moss competed the entire 2014-15 Division III women's basketball season while ineligible, the NCAA said in a news release.
Photo by Steve Frommell,
Sydney Moss' response, on Twitter

The Thomas More women’s basketball program has vacated the 2015 Division III women's basketball national championship. It was one of the sanctions and probation stemming from violations occurring in 2014, requiring all 33 victories from that season be set aside.

As such, there is now officially no national champion for women's basketball for that season. On the floor, Thomas More defeated George Fox 83-63 in the national championship game that season.

It's the first time a Division III basketball national title has been vacated.

The NCAA’s Division III Committee on Infractions concluded that because of the amount of benefit received, and the length of the benefit, that this constitutes a major violation.

"We disagree that it's a major violation, we think it's a secondary violation," Thomas More president David Armstrong said in a news conference. "However, we understand how they made that decision."

According to the NCAA’s report, all parties agreed that beginning in April 2014 and continuing for the rest of the calendar year, a women's basketball student-athlete lived cost-free with a former assistant coach and his family. The student-athlete knew the former assistant coach from her youth. The former assistant coach also provided her meals and brief use his personal automobile while she lived with him. The arrangement began after she suffered a knee injury in March 2014.

While not named, the student-athlete in question is Sydney Moss. Thomas More held her out of early-season games last season pending the NCAA’s initial compliance review. "The College's decision to withhold Sydney from competition at this time should in no way be construed as an indication of a NCAA rules violation by Sydney," a college news release from November 2015 noted. "The College is unable to further comment on this matter during the period of the review. We look forward to publicly discussing the matter at the conclusion of the review."

Moss was later reinstated. Thomas More won the 2016 Division III women’s basketball national championship. 

After her injury and reconstructive surgery, Moss lived alone, the report notes. In their interviews, both the student-athlete and the former assistant coach indicated they had concerns about her physical limitations. They were also worried about the safety of the neighborhood where she lived. The former assistant coach invited the student-athlete to live with his family until she fully recovered. In late April 2014, she moved in.

However, even though the former assistant coach and his family had an existing relationship with the student-athlete, NCAA rules do not allow college employees to provide cost-free housing to student-athletes.

The committee faults Thomas More’s failure to provide adequate rules education for the violation.

Penalties and corrective measures include:

  • Public reprimand and censure for the college.
  • Two years of probation for the college from Nov. 15, 2016, through Nov. 14, 2018.
  • A vacation of all wins in which the student-athlete competed while ineligible. The college will identify the games impacted after the release of the public report.
  • A $2,500 fine (self-imposed by the college).
  • An outside audit of the college’s athletics program, with an emphasis on financial aid policies and procedures. The school must implement all recommendations made by the reviewer (self-imposed by the college).
  • Several staff members, including the head coach, athletics director and compliance officer, must attend at least one NCAA Regional Rules Seminar.

"I take full responsibility for not recognizing the gravity of the situation," Thomas More coach Jeff Hans said in a statement. "If I, in any way, believedthe living arrangements for this student were improper, or in any way a violation of NCAA rules, I would have acted immediately. But as language in the NCAA ruling recognizes this was a mistake, there was no intention to gain a competitive advantage. We got it wrong and I take ownership of that."