Cheating scandal leads to NCAA sanctions for WSU football program

The Weber State football team lines up for practice in August 2013. The team has been sanctioned by the NCAA because of cheating last year. (Photo by Tyler Brown / The Signpost)
The Weber State football team lines up for practice in August 2013. The team has been sanctioned by the NCAA because of cheating last year. (Photo by Tyler Brown / The Signpost)

The NCAA Committee on Infractions announced Wednesday that the Weber State football team will be sanctioned because of academic fraud involving five players.

The Weber State football team has been placed on probation for three years effective Wednesday. The team was not banned from postseason play, but the university will have to pay a $5,000 fine plus 2 percent of the football program’s operating budget to the NCAA. It will also lose nine scholarships—three each year—during the probation. The penalties could have been harsher, but the chief hearing officer on the case, Rodney Uphoff, said that the fact Weber State reported the infractions as quickly as they did mitigated the possible penalties.

“The school was credited with properly detecting and coming forward with the information as required by the membership,” Uphoff said. “So yes that was a factor that worked in Weber State’s favor.”

The decision stemmed from a self-report made by the university on May 14, 2013. According to the release from NCAA, the case began April 24, 2013, when an adjunct instructor discovered inconsistencies in the work of a student-athletes.

“The adjunct instructor noted that the student-athlete completed six quizzes and a final exam in less than one hour—an uncharacteristic pattern for the student-athlete,” according to the NCAA.

From there, a nine-day review by members of the developmental math department identified inconsistencies in five students’ work, all of them members of the football team. The department informed the athletics department and Weber State’s president, and after an internal review, they reported the violations to the NCAA.

During the review, the work of nine other players was identified as potentially anomalous, but the players were found either not responsible or were not charged, according to the NCAA.

Christine Marx, a former developmental math instructor, was found to have taken quizzes and exams for the five players involved, Allison Hess, Weber State’s spokeswoman, said.

“When interviewed, the math instructor admitted that during the spring 2013 semester she obtained the usernames and passwords for five student-athletes . . . the math instructor also stated she had completed this work of her own volition and took responsibility for her actions,” the NCAA reported. “The math instructor also noted the five student-athletes never requested that she complete their quizzes, tests and exams and were not present at the time she completed them.”

Hess said that the incident was a shock, and that Weber State operates under the reasonable expectation that it can trust its faculty.

“This was completely unexpected behavior from a long-term employee who violated that trust,” Hess said.

Marx had been a part-time instructor at Weber State since 1987. In Weber State’s response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, the university stated that Marx had resigned her position upon learning of the investigation and would have been fired if she hadn’t resigned. The response also stated that the three student-athletes still enrolled at Weber State during the 2013-14 year were ruled ineligible and did not compete in the 2013 season.

“We take full responsibility for the incident,” Wight said. “While we regret that it occurred, it is reassuring to know the systems we have in place quickly detected these unethical activities. We must remain vigilant going forward.”

Weber State charged the five players with academic dishonesty and the players were issued failing grades.

Marx has been given a five-year show-cause order, meaning if she gets a position at a member institution of the NCAA with responsibilities in the athletics department, she must inform the institution of her show-cause order and a hearing will be held to determine if her responsibilities with the athletics department would be limited.

“At Weber State, we hold our students, faculty and staff to the highest level of ethical and professional conduct,” WSU President Chuck Wight said in a statement. “This investigation found that, in this case, a former adjunct instructor failed to uphold those standards.”

This is the third time in the last 10 years that the Weber State football team has been affected by NCAA sanctions. Last season, offensive coordinator Robin Pflugrad was suspended for one week of practices and the Wildcats’ home opener because of his failure to report improper assistance football players received from university boosters while he was head coach of the University of Montana team. In 2006, the football team lost one scholarship for the year after students from multiple athletics teams at Weber State used financial aid to buy non-essential items at the campus store, a violation of rules regarding athletes receiving extra benefits.

Skyler Pyle, editor in chief, contributed to this story.