By Zach Watkins – Sports Editor
The Grand Rapids Community College men’s basketball and men’s and women’s cross country teams are facing postseason bans after an internal investigation discovered letters of intent (LOI) had not been signed properly by administrators.
A parent looked at their child’s letter of intent and noticed a signature was missing, making the LOI invalid. The parent notified the school and the school discovered that they weren’t following the signing procedure for letters of intent. The school self reported the incident to the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Letters of intent need to be signed in a certain order – Athletic Director first, student, coach, parent (if student is under the age of 18) and then a designee.
“We weren’t following that process correctly,” Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Tina Hoxie said. “The parent noticed Athletic Director signature was missing. It wasn’t being done correctly.
“We self reported that and the NJCAA required that we reissue all LOIs for the 2015-16 year. So we did that.”
The Athletic Director at the time of the violations was Charlie Wells, who retired on June 30. The new AD, Orletta Caldwell, was hired on July 1. Wells could not reached for comment.
Dale Vos, NJCAA Region XII men’s director, confirmed the violations.
“It’s my understanding that there were some incorrect letters of intent that were signed,” Vos said. “It’s my understanding that it led to a greater investigation.”
During the process, the school became concerned with players’ eligibility, making sure they were all accurate. A self audit revealed that the school had five players, basketball and men’s and women’s cross country players, who were ineligible during the season. The school self reported that incident.
“We reissued the LOIs,” Hoxie said. “The ruling on that was for the 2015-16 season, men’s and women’s cross country will be on probation, and men’s basketball will be on probation this year.
“The teams will be unable to compete in the postseason. We can apply to have that taken off at the end of the year.”
Cross country coach Matt Sicilia said he is disappointed in the NJCAA’s ruling and no one from the cross country team had any knowledge of a rules violation, or did anything wrong.
“Performing well at the conference championships and qualifying for nationals from the regional championships were two primary goals and (the) motivation of our program and we can not compete in this meet,” Sicilia said. “It creates a stigma about GRCC athletics and the cross country program – in only it’s second season and striving to grow into a championship program.”
Despite the violations and the postseason ban, Sicilia remains positive on both of his team’s futures.
“Although this may handicap the short term success and recruiting this year, I feel the current runners on the men’s team will be even more determined to work hard in the offseason to prepare for what will be their only shot at qualifying for a National Championship race,” Sicilia said. “This situation is unfortunate, but it has not lessened the work ethic or team-centric attitude of any of the current runners or coaches.
“One of my goals in taking this position last year was to build a national-caliber cross country program at GRCC within the first three years. I still believe that the men’s team is on track to reach that goal.”
The teams will be eligible to appeal the ban at the end of the 2015-16 school year.