A proposed ban on postseason competition for all Orange Coast College sports teams in the 2016-17 school year will now include only football, the state governing body for athletics announced Wednesday.
A three-person arbitration panel that heard a written OCC appeal of sanctions imposed by the California Community College Athletic Assn. in late February ruled that football would be banned from postseason competition for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
All OCC sports are on probation through the spring of 2018 and any violations during that time could prompt further penalties. But all sports except football are free to participate in postseason competition.
The decision prompted relief and validation from OCC officials and coaches, who had been outspoken during the three-month appeal process that the sanctions were excessive and violated due process under CCCAA bylaws.
"We appreciate that the CCCAA followed its appeals process, and that programs that were not involved with these infractions will not be penalized," OCC President Dennis Harkins said in a statement.
"It's the decision that should have been made in the first place," said OCC women's basketball coach Mike Thornton, who said he believes he lost one prospective recruit due to the proposed postseason ban on his program that was lifted Wednesday.
Doug Bennett, the school's executive director of college advancement, said the ruling provided certainty moving forward. Bennett said the school would accept the two-year postseason ban for football and would not appeal further.
The football program, which made its first postseason bowl appearance since 2006 last season, was penalized after two assistant coaches provided impermissible benefits to recruits in spring 2015. They included a $60 housing deposit, food, and furniture that had been donated to the college. The coaches, one of whom was fired and the other quit, were also ruled to have made initial contact with out-of-state recruits, which is prohibited by CCCAA rules.
Among a handful of violations that prompted the proposed postseason ban for all sports, and the CCCAA's concern about a lack of institutional control, was the discovery in 2014 that an ineligible player competed in eight football games during the 2011 season. That violation prompted a postseason ban and a one-year probation for football during the 2014 season.
"This will not make OCC football any less competitive," Pirates football coach Kevin Emerson said Wednesday in a text message. "We will still prepare our young men for the next level, academically and athletically. It will not deter any universities from offering our guys scholarships and our ultimate goal of winning a conference championship is still in place."
Said Bennett: "We accept responsibility for the things football did wrong, and other issues, and we're working to improve the program."
Some believe that the postseason football ban, as well as the proposed ban for other sports that has been lifted, adversely affected OCC coaches' efforts to recruit prospective student-athletes in recent months.
The probation terms include a total program review of OCC athletics. Terms also require the school to regularly report progress on compliance and other administrative issues to the commissioners of the Orange Empire Conference and Southern California Football Assn. (football-only conference).
"It's a reminder of how important things are and maybe that as some of these compliance issues have grown over the last 10 or 12 years, that we need to be devoting more resources and staffing and support to make sure we are handling them effectively," Bennett said.