Four district attorneys urge NCAA to reconsider UMass women’s tennis team punishment 

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer
Published: 11/30/2020 8:06:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan tries to find justice in every case in his office, so he has a keen eye for injustice. The penalties the NCAA leveled against the UMass women’s tennis team in October did not strike him as justice.

The NCAA stripped the Minutewomen of the 2017 Atlantic 10 championship and 43 victories after it was discovered that two athletes received more financial aid than they were supposed to following a move off campus. The overpay resulted from a clerical error within the athletic department. UMass also forfeited 46 men’s basketball wins over the same time period.

After learning about the punishment and the nature of the crime, Sullivan and three other Massachusetts district attorneys, all UMass graduates, collaborated on a letter to the NCAA sent Monday asking the organization to modify its sanctions. Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr., Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who played lacrosse for the Minutewomen, signed the letter with Sullivan.

“For an infraction they didn’t cause, they didn’t benefit from, they didn’t get any competitive advantage from,” Sullivan said. “Why would the punishment be so drastic? It doesn’t meet the threshold of justice on any level.”

The letter lays out three grounds for asking the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions to amend its decision: the punishment affects the student-athletes rather than the institution responsible, the university made every attempt to alert the NCAA of the infractions and took responsibility for them, and it’s counter productive to penalize those who come forward and voluntarily engage in restorative justice.

They drew parallels to “prosecuting someone for larceny because their bank made an error in their favor that went unnoticed – then punishing all of the members of their household as well,” and recent policies by the MIAA, Massachusetts’ high school governing body, to lessen punishment against athletes who come forward and seek help for substance abuse.

“The highest price being paid here is being shouldered by student-athletes who are the least culpable,” the letter states.

Sullivan also raised questions of fairness and equity within the NCAA’s rules enforcement. UMass is not a member of one of the “Power 5” conferences, which have the most prestige and generate the most revenue.

“If Clemson or Alabama had a $500 accounting infraction, would they strip a national title from them? They wouldn’t,” Sullivan said. “There’s a double standard going on here. It’s wrong for the young women to be the victims.”

Morrisey put together the letter’s first draft with Sullivan’s assistance. The rest of the group found consensus “in a day,” Sullivan said.

“We recognize when justice isn’t done,” he said.

UMass is appealing the punishments. The letter from the four district attorneys is a separate effort from the appeal. UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford said he was aware of the letter, applauded the UMass alumni using their voices for good, and thanked them for their support.

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