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California

Basketball players could be banned from postseason after review finds L.A. Trade-Tech mismanaged funds

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Los Angeles Trade-Technical College is facing a possible ban on postseason sports after an external review found problems with its athletics program.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Trade-Technical College is facing a possible ban on postseason sports after an external review found evidence that it gave student-athletes special benefits in violation of state college athletics rules.

Such actions, if verified, could lead the South Coast Conference to impose sanctions — probation and the postseason ban — on the L.A. Trade-Tech men’s basketball team.

The review also found that L.A. Trade-Tech had financially mismanaged its athletics program in recent years, failing to provide proper oversight while significantly increasing spending.

Overall, L.A. Trade-Tech failed to meet 11 of 13 standards for best practices in athletics programs, according to the January review by Innovative Performance Solutions Inc. The college, however, received positive ratings for equitably treating men’s and women’s sports, and for better performance among student-athletes than non-athletes in completing courses with a grade of at least a C.

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Rich Kollen, commissioner of the 12-college South Coast Conference, said campuses must self-report violations of state rules. He said L.A. Trade-Tech sent him the review and President Laurence Frank notified him that the college is investigating whether two men’s basketball players — at least one of them an international student — received special benefits, such as free housing and food. Providing special benefits to athletes is a violation of state college athletics rules. The 2018-19 team roster lists one player from the Dominican Republic.

If Trade-Tech does not report a finding to him within two weeks, Kollen said, he would conduct his own investigation. A possible sanction would be one year probation and a ban on postseason play, he said.

“When a school gets put on probation, the sad part is who gets hurt? The student-athlete,” he said. “But it’s our only mechanism to address violations.”

The review also found evidence that L.A. Trade-Tech had failed to create educational plans for student-athletes, which would violate state rules that require them. But Frank, in a Thursday letter to Kollen, said the college had in fact created the plans. He did not address the review’s finding that some athletics staff had reported giving players free housing and food.

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In the letter, Frank also told Kollen that Trade-Tech is suspending all sports except basketball. But he said the college was considering starting soccer — the sports program most frequently requested by students — as a new field opens this fall.

Frank and L.A. Community College District Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez did not respond to questions from The Times about the review. In an email, district spokesman William Boyer said Frank has worked with faculty and staff to take corrective action and develop an improvement plan so that “competitive sports can remain a viable part of Trade’s college life.”

“Both LATTC and the district will accept nothing less than quality athletic programs that meet or exceed all required academic, financial and athletic standards as required by law and by the California Community College Athletic Association,” Boyer wrote.

The findings mark the latest blow to the beleaguered college. In 2017, an internal district investigation found that college officials had falsified grades in a pilot program to help underprepared students improve their math skills. The district auditor also found that two administrators failed to justify $157,000 they received from 2014 to 2017 through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, which has launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

In addition, the campus has suffered from low morale and deep divisions, with some faculty members supporting a vote of no-confidence against the campus president. On Thursday, Frank announced that he planned to step down next month and take a job with the district leading economic and workforce initiatives.

The external review took note of the problems.

“LATTC has been challenged lately with public episodes of fiscal mismanagement and an erosion of public trust,” the review said. “It is not within the scope of this project to comment on those instances, yet they are consistent with the general lack of accountability and oversight found within our project.”

In a meeting with faculty last month, Frank disclosed that the college had to return $400,000 in state funding because of problems with the athletics program. He did not detail why or when that occurred, but the news — along with the review’s findings — stunned and dismayed some faculty members.

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Maryanne Galindo, who heads the School of Business and Civic Engagement, said it was “mind-boggling” that Frank failed to disclose those problems when they occurred, which some have said was a few years ago.

“The only way we deal with the wounds on this campus is to literally bring this stuff into the light,” she told him, according to a tape of the meeting obtained by The Times. “The way we rebuild trust on this campus is we make it transparent.”

Others decried the impact of the review’s findings on students.

“It is heartbreaking, yet not surprising, to learn that once again, the president has failed our students,” said Lisa Moreno, a Trade-Tech professor of English. “I hope that his inaction and gross malfeasance does not jeopardize the women basketball players, who have shown great determination and dedication on the court as well as in my classroom.”

Cheyenne McKinnie, who led the L.A. Trade-Tech women’s basketball team to back-to-back South Coast Conference championships, said she feared the findings would jeopardize the program’s future.

“I don’t think it’s fair that our hard work put [in] on and off the court should be taken away over something that is above us and that we have no control over,” said McKinnie, who will play for Cal Poly Pomona this fall.

Kollen said that no allegations of wrongdoing have been reported against the women’s basketball team.

Academic Senate President Martin Diaz said many of the problems at L.A. Trade-Tech date back to four years ago, but the campus has made improvements. Money collected at games — which one dean observed was not being tracked and spent later without appropriate controls — is now being monitored under proper accounting guidelines, according to a March memo from college administrators.

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“This review effort and the recommendations for improvements are a good thing for our athletic program and our students,” Diaz said.

The review was requested last year by then-Vice President Jim Lancaster and Dean Ann Hamilton. Among the findings:

  • More than half of the students enrolled in courses restricted to athletes were not on team rosters.
  • No evidence was provided for the proper accounting of money raised by the athletic department or by teams from tournaments, instructional clinics, sales at snack bars and of tickets.
  • There were “numerous instances of fiscal mismanagement, poor budgeting, or spending without accountability.” The women’s basketball team, for instance, rented two rooms for non-team members at a cost of $1,600 with no oversight.
  • Athletics program spending rose to nearly $800,000 in 2017-18, reflecting a 54% increase from two years earlier with no details on where half the money was allocated. L.A. Trade-Tech spent nearly twice as much as a comparable school, Imperial Valley College.
  • Aging facilities and spotty maintenance presented threats to health and safety, including lack of air conditioning and a defibrillator in the gym.
  • Nearly two-thirds of student-athletes passed classes with at least a C in 2017-18, compared to about 60% of the general population.

“The student-athletes of LATTC deserve better,” the review said.


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