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Team used ineligible players, professors changed grades
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Northern Arizona's football program was put on probation for three years by the NCAA on Wednesday for using an ineligible player.

The university was censured for a lack of institutional control because professors changed the player's grades.

"They didn't report the matter to us in a timely fashion," Division I Infractions Committee chairman Jack Friedenthal said Wednesday. "They didn't go through the procedure of declaring the player ineligible and seeking reinstatement, which is the way it's appropriately done.

"Instead, they waited until after football season and didn't report it until the student was trying out for track."

School president Clara Lovett denied that the administration dragged its feet.

"We investigated and took action," she said. "That action included redesigning our eligibility-monitoring systems to include a daily computer report of student-athlete and academic status."

The committee took away five football equivalencies for the 2002-03 academic year, leaving the program with 58. An equivalency is a scholarship that can be divided up among several players.

The panel also vacated the results of six 1999 games in which wide receiver Francis St. Paul played while ineligible. The Lumberjacks won four of the six, so their 1999 record dropped from 8-4 to 4-8.

The school must redo its media guides and publications, a subtle punishment which Friedenthal said could have an impact on recruiting.

"That has turned out to be more of a penalty than some people might think," Friedenthal said. "They were playing in a I-AA championship game, and that has to be wiped out and can't be advertised as a recruiting device."

Northern Arizona's final 1999 game was a 72-29 playoff loss to Georgia Southern.

The committee found that the university failed to report the violations and ignored inquiries from the Big Sky Conference, which ordered the team to forfeit the games last year.

But Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton saw nothing wrong with the way Northern Arizona went about it.

"I don't think it's terribly unusual for a school to have its own interpretation of what the NCAA is saying," he said. "I think they honestly were interpreting the rule and tried as best they could to follow it."

The committee found that two university professors either improved St. Paul's grades posted the previous semester or submitted early grades.

Postings that made St. Paul eligible were official within a day, while postings that worsened his grade-point average went unreported for as long as 14 days.

The registrar's office, coaches and other athletic department officials also were implicated because they are involved in ensuring student-athlete compliance, Friedenthal said.

The NCAA did not find grades changed for any other Northern Arizona players.

"We remain committed to compliance with all NCAA and Big Sky Conference rules and regulations," athletic director Steve Holton said. "We have instituted a stronger set of policies and procedures."

St. Paul, the Big Sky's second-leading receiver in 1999 with 67 catches for 987 yards and 13 touchdowns, was suspended for the first six games of the 2000 season.

He finished with 29 catches for 230 yards and two TDs, and the Lumberjacks were 3-8.

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