Manhattan College’s athletics department had a rough three weeks leading into the beginning of June — to say the least. Others could say it has been a rough four years, according to the NCAA.
It started with the departure of second-year women’s softball coach Cat Clifford on May 19 after a 13-35 campaign, continued with the announcement of athletic director Marianne Reilly’s resignation on June 2 and ended with the announcement of NCAA recruitment and academic eligibility violations involving six teams (women’s softball, men’s basketball, men’s baseball, men’s golf, men’s track & field and men’s soccer) on June 6.
After the dust cleared, the Jaspers named veteran intercollegiate athletics administrator Irma Garcia interim athletic director to replace Reilly when she steps down July 1 and began a nationwide search for a new softball coach. Garcia was AD at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.
More importantly, the school’s academic and amateur eligibility compliance program was deemed a failure between 2019 and 2022, not to mention that the softball program violated a serious recruiting rule by allowing an assistant coach to reach out to prospective student-athletes despite not being certified to do so.
In the announcement that Clifford would not return as softball coach, Reilly said, “I want to thank Coach (Cat) Clifford for seven years of being a part of the Manhattan College community and serving the student-athletes. We wish her the best of luck and nothing but success in her future endeavors.”
Manhattan College President Brother Daniel Gardner never mentioned any specific connections between the departures of Reilly and Clifford and the violations. He did mention there had been “personnel changes,” however.
“I would like to apologize to our student-athletes, coaches, staff, opposing teams, alumni, athletic fans and the entire Manhattan College community for this unacceptable institutional failure,” Gardner said. “While today (June 6) is a difficult day for Manhattan College, it bears repeating that, per our NCAA membership responsibility, we self-reported our potential violations to the NCAA enforcement staff, we worked cooperatively with them throughout the process, we acknowledged our responsibility where we fell short and we accepted the consequences for our actions.”
Those consequences brought down by the NCAA through a negotiated resolution with the college include:
• A $5,000 fine
• Two years of probation for the six teams
• Suspension of the softball head coach from the first two nonconference home games of the 2024 season.
• A 16-day prohibition against all softball recruiting activities during the June/July 2023 contact period.
• A five-year show-cause order for the former assistant coach, CJ Morillo. During that period, any NCAA member school employing him should restrict him from all athletically related responsibilities.
• Vacating of all records in which the student-athlete competed while ineligible. (The university must provide a written report containing the contests impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 14 days of the public release of the decision).
“In addition, we implemented several internal changes to our eligibility certification processes, made personnel changes, and dedicated additional resources to our overall compliance efforts to help ensure there are no further lapses in our systems,” Gardner said.
One of those changes include Manhattan College promising to allocate roughly $120,000 to enhance its compliance program, including creating a new compliance position and funding additional educational opportunities.
Breaking down the violations
The NCAA’s infractions statement said “Manhattan College failed to monitor eligibility certification” and that the softball head coach was responsible for recruitment violations.
It said for more than four academic years, Manhattan College improperly certified eligibility for 26 student-athletes across six sports, according to an agreement released by the Division I Committee on Infractions.
“Additional violations occurred in the softball program when a former assistant coach recruited prospects without completing a mandatory recruiting exam and later refused to cooperate with an investigation,” the statement continued. “Finally, because the head coach learned of the improper recruiting but did not address it, the head coach was found to have failed to set a proper tone of compliance.”
Of the improperly certified student-athletes, most received expenses while ineligible and some received scholarships while ineligible, according to the NCAA. Seven of the student-athletes were not withheld from competition and went on to compete in 521 contests while ineligible. The inadequate certification program and the underlying improper certifications also demonstrated Manhattan failed to monitor the certification of its student-athletes.
Manhattan College administration agreed it did not adequately maintain its eligibility certification program, resulting in confusion about whether responsibility for the academic certification program rested with athletics academic advisors or athletics compliance officers.
“The confusion led to improper certification for 26 student-athletes across six sports —baseball, softball, men’s golf, men’s track and field, men’s basketball and men’s soccer — and resulted in 32 violations of amateurism certification, progress-toward-degree requirements and transfer rules,” according to the NCAA statement.
Gardner described how the investigation began.
“At the end of the last academic year, department of athletics administrators brought to our attention information regarding the possible ineligibility of one student-athlete,” Gardner said.