A former Cal State Northridge women's volleyball player said Thursday she did schoolwork for Nancy Ma, the team's best player, with the knowledge of Coach Lian Lu and assistant Kathleen O'Laughlin.
Nicki Midwin, a 19-year-old sophomore who quit the team last month, said she completed several assignments for Ma, 25, a junior from China who speaks limited English.
"I know the coaches were aware of it because I was at practice [last fall] and I told Lu, 'Look, I'm completely pressured. I have to do my essay, I have to do her essay.' He gave me a day off from practice so I could do it," Midwin said.
The Times reported Thursday that CSUN Associate Athletic Director Judy Brame started investigating the allegations of academic improprieties last week. Lu and O'Laughlin both deny knowledge of Midwin performing schoolwork for Ma.
"They helped each other; they're very good friends," Lu said of Ma and Midwin. "I don't know anything about it. We know the rules very clear. Our coaches would never do that."
O'Laughlin, in her third year as an assistant, said Midwin's allegations are "totally false."
"I've never done anything like that and I never will," she said. "We are saying we have never put pressure on any of our athletes. We fully deny putting pressure on anybody."
Attempts to reach Ma at home were unsuccessful.
If Midwin's allegations are true, Northridge could face punishment from the NCAA.
"If you have staff members knowledgeable of a violation going on, it increases the severity of the problem and increases the penalty," said Mark Jones, a director of rules enforcement for the NCAA.
CSUN is investigating further allegations by Midwin that Ma committed academic fraud by allowing another person to assist her in completing two tests.
Midwin said she told Brame that she saw one of Ma's roommates sitting next to Ma during a March 3 psychology test and a religion test last month.
"I went into my psychology class," Midwin said. "Nancy Ma was sitting behind me and the girl was sitting to the left of her. I finished my test and when I got up, I looked back and I saw the girl give Nancy the essay we had to write. That was her roommate. I couldn't believe it. I went in and talked to Kathleen."
Brame said O'Laughlin approached her with the allegations last week, prompting the investigation.
Midwin also said the same roommate was present for a test Ma took last month in a religion class.
"These allegations are clearly very serious and we are taking them at their value and doing a careful review," said Ronald Kopita, vice president of student affairs.
The instructor for Midwin's psychology class, assistant professor Sheila Grant, said 80 students took the March 3 test. Grant said she and three teaching assistants proctored the exam. The students did not have to show identification before taking the exam that included essay and multiple-choice questions, Grant said.
"There was nothing on the outcome of [Ma's] score to suggest someone took it for her," Grant said.
Midwin, a Northridge starter for part of last season, quit the team last month because she wants to pursue a beach volleyball career and, she said, because she felt pressure from the Matador coaching staff to assist Ma with schoolwork.
"I'm upset about the whole deal," Midwin said. "I felt I had a lot of pressure from the coaches because she was such a big player on our team. I'd come to practice and I'd be crying.
"[Lu] knew what was going on, but he played a lot like he didn't. I talked to Kathleen and told her about it. She was aware of what went on last semester."
Midwin said she has taken almost every class the past two years with Ma, except for the 1997 spring semester, when Ma left Northridge to return to China for several months.
Midwin said she told her coaches that the burden of carrying two academic loads--her own and part of Ma's--was too much to handle.
"Lu went and got a course schedule of the classes I take," Midwin said. "Nancy came up to me and asked if she could take classes with me. She pulled my schedule out of her folder. I asked how she got it. She said, 'Lu gave it to me.' "
Midwin said she does not claim to have done all of Ma's homework.
"If you read some of the essays written by her, I write 'A' essays," Midwin said. "I write real good essays, and when I had to write essays for her, she got really good grades.
"I wrote a five-page paper, I wrote a seven-page essay. I wrote a lot of stuff for her."
Ma led Northridge to the Big Sky Conference championship in 1996 and holds the school season record for kills with 456. Last September, she suffered a season-ending knee injury, underwent surgery and is scheduled to return to off-season workouts next month.
Ma arrived at CSUN in the fall of 1996 from Kai Feng, China.
"Lu had a team meeting: 'This is Nancy Ma. She's from China. She doesn't speak much English. We're going to need to help her,' " Midwin said. "I kind of stepped forward and said I'd help out. Before I knew it, I was having to meet with Audrey [Moore, academic advisement coordinator] trying to make sure she had the right classes and was eligible."
Midwin, a San Jose native, said she chose Cal State Northridge because of Lu's coaching skills and expressed remorse about the situation.
"I don't want to do anything to incriminate the school because they've done a lot for me," Midwin said, "but something has to be done."
Sondheimer is a Times staff writer and Bresnahan is a correspondent.