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NCAA punishes CSUN for former basketball director's violations

A sign at California State University's Northridge campus.
SonnyandSandy via Flickr Creative Commons
A sign at California State University's Northridge campus.

Cal State Northridge's men's basketball team will not be eligible for postseason play this season and has had its records from the 2014-15 season vacated under penalties resulting from an NCAA investigation that found the school's former director of basketball operations helped 10 players cheat to get academic credit.

The NCAA has also put the men's basketball program on three years' probation and issued a "show-cause" order against the former director that will make it difficult for him to get a job with another NCAA school for five years. In addition, the NCAA is requiring CSUN to pay a $5,000 fine and an amount totaling 1 percent of the men's basketball program budget.

As part of the sanctions, CSUN has issued a self-imposed ban on postseason play for the 2016-17 season and also said it would voluntarily remove two scholarships from the team, one each for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years. The school also agreed not to take a $17,000 payment from the Big West Conference that it would have been owed as its share of the conference's revenues.

In a report made public Wednesday, the NCAA said the former director of basketball operations engaged in unethical behavior during the 2014-15 academic year by completing "significant portions" of 10 players' online quizzes, tests and assignments in violation of the school's academic policies.

In issuing the sanctions, the NCAA said the violations occurred due to "dysfunctional" communication between the school's academic and athletic departments.

"The former director of basketball operations denied completing coursework or providing impermissible academic benefits to student-athletes," the NCAA's decision reads. "However, the panel did not find him to be credible."

The NCAA commended CSUN for taking several self-imposed corrective actions, including an internal investigation that led to the former director being placed on administrative leave in October 2014 and his resignation in May 2015.

The report did not include the director's name, but a Los Angeles Times investigation identified him as Lior Schwartzberg, who left CSUN to work as a high school basketball coach soon after the allegations of academic misconduct were brought against him. The Times contacted Schwartzberg, who denied violating the university's academic policies.

Concerns of Schwartzberg's involvement with athletes' academic assignments were first raised by CSUN's academic affairs office in 2013, yet the university failed to properly investigate them, according to Carol Cartwright, chief hearing officer of the NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions.

"We found the lack of communication allowed the violations to occur," Cartwright said on a conference call.

The NCAA report says that during a hearing with its investigative panel, the former director admitted to letting student-athletes use his computers and his cubicle, but denied completing any of their coursework. According to the report, tutors at CSUN found that one student-athlete did not know how to log in to the system for students to submit assignments, but found assignments for him submitted through the system.

An examination of the former director's personal computer, which was recovered off-campus, showed "approximately 3,000 individual actions involving the 10 men's basketball student-athletes," none of which the former director could explain during the NCAA hearing, the report says.

The NCAA said in its decision that the former director had received NCAA rules education and should have known that completing the athletes' coursework was unacceptable. The director was held responsible for committing "academic misconduct" for two student-athletes and providing "impermissible academic benefits" to six student athletes. For two additional athletes, he provided "impermissible academic benefits" and committed "academic misconduct," the NCAA said. 

The CSUN men's basketball program released a statement in response to the NCAA decision on Wednesday. In the statement, the university's athletic department said it "looks forward to moving forward."