NCAA finally closes the Stevens Point case

More news about: UW-Stevens Point
Bob Semling squats along the sidelines at a Division III NCAA Tournament game at UW-Platteville
The NCAA levied a two-year show-cause order for UW-Stevens Point men's basketball coach Bob Semling. The university said he will continue to be their coach.
Photo by Steve Frommell,

By Pat Coleman

Twenty-five months ago, UW-Stevens Point suspended head men's basketball coach Bob Semling for the remainder of the 2016-17 season, and even that was the second self-imposed punishment the school handed down for violations which occurred from 2011 through 2015.

Now, nearly three and a half years later, the long process has finally come to a conclusion, as the NCAA and UW-Stevens Point announced that UW-Stevens Point did not monitor its men’s basketball program when the coaching staff directed, observed and engaged in activities outside the playing season, according to a decision by the NCAA Division III Committee on Infractions.

"For nearly half a decade, these violations gave UWSP an unfair competitive and recruiting advantage to the detriment of institutions that complied with the legislation," the NCAA report reads.

As the release terms it, the head men’s basketball coach did not promote an atmosphere for compliance within his program due to his involvement in some of the violations. The university’s former athletics director violated NCAA ethical conduct rules when he provided the NCAA enforcement staff and university false or misleading information about his knowledge of the violations.

The committee noted that NCAA member schools must identify violations and report them, especially when alerted to potential violations. It also noted the failure to monitor the men’s basketball program was significant considering the multiple red flags and alerts provided to the former athletics director over the five-year period.

During the investigation, the former athletics director, Daron Montgomery, who has since taken the same job at Division II St. Anselm, told the NCAA's enforcement staff and the university that he did not know the men’s basketball staff was observing and involved in the activities. Multiple individuals, however, contradicted these assertions, and his office sat in an area where the activities were easily observed.

According to the NCAA release, the committee warned that failing to give truthful information substantially damages the ability for the university and enforcement staff to conduct a thorough and timely investigation.

This process took longer than expected for a case of this nature. The NCAA would not comment on the length of time required.

The penalties include the following:

  • Public reprimand and censure.
  • Four years of probation.
  • A three-year show-cause order for the former athletics director. During that time, he must attend two NCAA Regional Rules Seminars and receive ethics training.
  • A two-year show-cause order for the head coach. During that period, he must attend one NCAA Regional Rules Seminar and receive ethics training. The committee acknowledged his 13-game suspension during the 2016-17 season and required attendance at the 2016 NCAA Regional Rules Seminar. The committee noted it could have prescribed a more stringent show-cause order if the university had not taken this action.
  • A postseason ban for the 2016-17 season (self-imposed by the university).
  • A prohibition of men’s basketball official visits during the probationary period. (The committee acknowledged the university’s self-imposed prohibition since Jan. 1, 2017.)
  • A delay in the first men’s basketball practice date for the 2017-18 season by three days and a three-day delay of the first practice in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons (self-imposed by the university).
  • The university forfeited three men’s basketball practices at the beginning of the 2016-17 season (self-imposed by the university).
  • Outside audit of the college’s athletics policies and procedures, with an emphasis on compliance and rules education.
  • A $2,500 fine (self-imposed by the university).

The show-cause orders and the probationary period begin today, Feb. 5, 2019. Anyone in the NCAA wishing to hire someone with a show-cause order in place must make their case to the NCAA as to why that person should be allowed to coach or serve in the specific role.

"Bob Semling is our head coach and he's working hard to prepare for the Whitewater game," athletic director Brad Duckworth told The Pointers play at Whitewater on Wednesday, Feb. 6. "He can continue to be our coach. There are stipulations behind his show-cause order. He has to attend a Regional Rules Seminar, he has to go through an ethics training.

"We intend for Bob to be our coach. He's going to be our coach. He's served a strong penalty already -- a 13-game suspension is pretty hefty in and of itself -- and then a two-year show-cause and some additional trainings is a pretty hefty retribution."

This is the university's first major infractions case.

The sanctions do not include any additional postseason ban, aside from the 2016-17 ban already self-imposed. No results were vacated.

The Pointers are currently 14-6 overall, 6-4 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, leaving them tied for third with four games left in the conference slate. The program won national titles in 2004 and 2005, when Semling was an assistant coach under Jack Bennett, then with Semling as head coach, UWSP won two more titles. The 2010 team defeated Williams to win the national crown, while the 2015 team defeated Augustana. The 2015 title was awarded approximately seven months before this set of violations occurred.

Semling did not make himself available for a statement at the Feb. 5 news conference, but provided a prepared statement two days later, stating, in part: "I am relieved for our program that this matter has finally come to a conclusion. We overcame the adversity of this case last season winning the 2018 WIAC tournament and advancing to the 2018 NCAA (Division) III Sectional or Sweet Sixteen. We are focused on doing the same again this year."

This case was resolved through what the NCAA calls the summary disposition process, which is a cooperative effort where the parties submit the case to the Committee on Infractions, in written form. The NCAA enforcement staff, involved individuals and university must agree to the facts and overall level of the case to use this process instead of a formal hearing. Montgomery contested his show-cause penalty, but the COI maintained the penalty on review of his written submission.

The committee found that over a five-year period, the UW-Stevens Point men’s basketball coaching staff routinely observed, influenced and, at times, participated in sport-specific activities outside the practice and playing season allowed by NCAA rules. The sessions occurred five days a week for five weeks each fall and five weeks each spring. 

The committee found that over a five-year period, the men’s basketball coaching staff routinely observed, influenced and, at times, participated in sport-specific activities outside the practice and playing season allowed by NCAA rules. The sessions occurred five days a week for five weeks each fall and five weeks each spring. The coaching staff distributed workout sheets detailing drills to be completed with provided space for the student-athletes to record their performances. The head coach also chose teams for scrimmages and authorized assistant coaches to participate in the occasional scrimmages. The coaching staff also allowed prospects visiting the university to participate in the sessions, contrary to NCAA recruiting rules.

In its decision, the committee noted that the out-of-season activities provided the student-athletes extra practice opportunities and skill instruction and gave coaches additional opportunities to determine student-athlete and team development. It continued that these violations gave the university an unfair competitive and recruiting advantage over schools that follow the rules.

Semling directly participated in the violations. While Semling was not involved with previous violations, the committee found he demonstrated that rules compliance was not foremost on his mind as he ran his program. It continued that out-of-season activity rules are fundamental, and Semling did not ask Montgomery whether his involvement in the activities was permissible.

The university had suspended Semling for the latter half of the 2016-17 season and imposed a postseason ban on the program, which was actually the second set of self-imposed punishments for the same set of violations. That suspension was handed down in January 2017.

"As an institution, we feel that it is imperative to take swift and immediate action in response to what we have been informed by the NCAA are major allegations regarding our men's basketball program," current UWSP athletic director Brad Duckworth said at the time. But the process, which generally involves two parties, the institution and the NCAA, was complicated by the fact that Semling determined his interests differed from those of the school, and because the school's former athletic director was involved as well. Montgomery was athletic director at UWSP from 2011 until December 2015. 

The allegations, as the school defines them:

  1. It is alleged that during the 2011-12 through 2015-16 academic years, the men’s basketball coaching staff impermissibly directed, observed and engaged men’s basketball student-athletes in athletically related activities outside the institution’s declared playing seasons.
  2. It is alleged that in spring semesters between 2012 and 2015, the men’s basketball coaching staff impermissibly observed approximately 16 men’s basketball prospective student-athletes as they participated with men’s basketball student-athletes in activities detailed in allegation No. 1.
  3. It is alleged that during the 2011-12 through 2015-16 academic years, Bob Semling did not demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance within the men’s basketball program due to his personal involvement in the alleged violations.
  4. It is alleged that between the 2011-12 academic year and the fall 2015, the scope and nature of the violations detailed in Allegations 1 and 2 demonstrate that the institution violated the principle of rules compliance when it failed to adequately monitor the men’s basketball program’s compliance with NCAA playing and practice seasons and tryout legislation. 

In the Division III bylaws, Article 17 gives significant detail to what is permitted and prohibited outside the playing and practice season, which starts on Oct. 15 for men's and women's basketball.

The case took many months to process, as the NCAA's report shows:

After the enforcement staff received an anonymous letter in October 2015, the staff sent a letter of inquiry, UWSP investigated the matter and self-reported violations in April 2016. After receiving the response to the letter of inquiry, the enforcement staff decided the scope and nature of the violations required further investigation. The parties conducted interviews from August 2016 through October 2017.

The parties submitted the summary disposition report to the COI on May 4, 2018.

The COI initially reviewed the report on June 12, 2018. Following this review, the COI requested additional information regarding the agreed-upon violations. In response, the parties provided the COI an addendum to the SDR. On Aug. 17, 2018, the COI reviewed the addendum, accepted the agreed-upon facts and violations, adopted the self-imposed penalties and UWSP's corrective actions, and determined that the violations warranted additional penalties.

On Sept. 4 of that year, the COI proposed additional penalties: a four-year probationary period, a ban on men's basketball official visits during this period, an outside audit of athletics policies and procedures, and public reprimand and censure to UWSP, and a two- and three-year show-cause order with restrictions for the head coach and athletics director, respectively. UWSP accepted the additional penalties on Sept. 21, 2018. Semling initially contested his show-cause order before he accepted it on Oct. 18, 2018. Montgomery contested his show-cause order on Sept. 19, 2018, and requested that the COI review the penalty based on a written submission, which he submitted one month later. The COI reviewed the written submission on Nov. 13, 2018.