More trouble may be brewing for the University of Maine's athletics department.
An internal investigation by the university has revealed that 17 student-athletes -- most of whom were hockey players -- violated NCAA rules when they accepted free breakfasts from a cashier at Stewart Commons during the 1994 fall semester.
The university immediately reported the violations to the NCAA and fired the cashier, Carolyn Cust.
According to a Feb. 16, 1995, letter to Cust from Dining Services Director Jon Lewis, an informal audit of meal receipts and cash payments revealed "very serious irregularities and an apparent loss of substantial amounts of university funds."
The total value of the meals was estimated to be "slightly more than $600," according to UMaine Director of Public Affairs John Diamond.
"It was an unauthorized act of an employee who was extending what that employee thought was a courtesy to students," Diamond said.
He declined to confirm whether the student-athletes involved were from only the hockey team.
"As a practice, we have not been identifying the teams," he said. "That information will be included in the larger report we are preparing."
The athletes reimbursed the university for the meals and the NCAA restored their eligibility, Diamond said.
The range of reimbursements for each player was from $9.50 to $57, he said.
"Restitution was determined through identifying which days the students had been given free meals by the employee," Diamond explained.
All of the athletes were off-campus students, Diamond said.
Dining Services managers became suspicious when they discovered that daily cash receipts rose when Cust took some time off in December and dropped when she returned.
The university suspended Cust on Dec. 20, 1994. According to Lewis's letter to Cust, Cust admitted that she had allowed the athletes to enter the commons without paying.
The athletes involved were upfront about their involvement and cooperated with the investigation, Diamond said.
"There's an honor system involved with some of the student-athletes," he said. "When asked, they're expected to tell the truth, and they did."
Diamond said the NCAA considered the violations to be secondary. He stressed, though, that the university has taken the violations seriously.
"We know from our past experience, obviously, that if the NCAA feels that an infraction was done in an egregious way they will respond very severely," Diamond said, "so I think we have to keep the nature of the infractions in that context."
All UMaine student-athletes go through an orientation in which they are informed of NCAA regulations, Diamond said.
The NCAA's prohibiting student-athletes from accepting gifts is perhaps its most widely known rule.
"I can't speak to the degree to which those students realized their (MaineCards) weren't being scanned or whatever," Diamond said.
Regardless, Diamond said, the student-athletes took advantage of a "perceived hospitality, which was inappropriate."
Efforts to contact officials at the NCAA have been unsuccessful.
Cust, who had worked for the university since 1975, declined to comment last weekend, saying she was doing so on the advice of her attorney.
Diamond said the violations would be included in the university's self-report to the NCAA. The university began an investigation into its athletic department last year after discovering that several student-athletes were academically ineligible.
The report won't be completed for some time, he said.
"Every infraction, no matter how perceptually insignificant it might seem, is reported -- period."
The university didn't announce the violations to the public because it "does not make a practice of disclosing disciplinary action involving employees unless the circumstances are highly unusual, as exemplified by some of the actions last year, Diamond said.
Last year former hockey player Cal Ingraham had to sit out the first 14 games of the hockey season when the university discovered it had made an error in transferring his academic credits. Jeff Tory, another hockey player, was declared ineligible by the NCAA because he had failed to meet the NCAA's requirement that student-athletes maintain a 2.0 grade point average in high school.
Five more student-athletes, all of whom were graduate students, were declared to be ineligible by the NCAA when the university discovered they had not been enrolled in the minimum amount of credit hours.
Then, last summer, the university discovered that its allowing student-athletes to use Latti Fitness Center for free during the summer violated NCAA regulations because other students had to pay.
This story originally appeared in the March 29, 1995, edition of The Maine Campus.
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