NCAA Imposes Level II Violations on UC Santa Barbara Men’s Water Polo program

UCSB's coaching staff is the focus of an NCAA Level II violation sanction that threatens a promising season. Photo Courtesy: UCSB Athletics

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has imposed Level II violation sanctions on UCSB’s men’s water polo program after the school self-reported multiple violations of NCAA bylaws that involve impermissible contacts with recruits, the school announced today.

It was nearly a year ago (11/15/18), that UCSB announced “it would not participate in the GCC Conference championship or any other post season opportunity during the 2018-19 academic year due to a University-imposed corrective measure in connection with an on-going review by the University and the NCAA”.

October 21, 2018; Spieker Aquatics Complex, Berkeley, CA, USA; Collegiate Mens Water Polo: California Golden Bears vs UC Santa Barbara Gauchos; UC Santa Barbara Head Coach Wolf Wigo Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Gaucho Head Coach Wolf Wigo, Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

This mystery hung like a cloud over a program that began this season with 15 consecutive victories. Today, all was revealed in two NCAA documents. First, an NCAA press release on UC Santa Barbara which in fact covered two sports, Cross Country and Men’s Water Polo. The second document is the NCAA Public Infractions Decision-contained in the press release, which includes the chronology of events and the details of the evidence and decisions made by the committee.

Following is a statement supplied this afternoon to Swimming World by Bill Mahoney, Associate Athletics Director, Communications, UC Santa Barbara Athletics.

UC Santa Barbara values compliance with NCAA rules. Today’s report by the NCAA Committee on Infractions is the result of an investigation that was conducted cooperatively by the NCAA enforcement staff and the university. The report describes NCAA Level II violations in UCSB’s men’s water polo program and distance running programs.

As the report indicates, the violations occurred even though UC Santa Barbara exercised appropriate institutional control and monitoring of its athletics programs. The report also notes that UC Santa Barbara self-detected and self-disclosed violations, accepted responsibility and self-imposed meaningful corrective measures and penalties, and provided the enforcement staff with valuable assistance which helped expedite the resolution of the case. UC Santa Barbara is disappointed that the violations happened. The University is committed to learning from the process and continuing to promote student-athlete welfare and competition with integrity as core values of the university’s athletics department.

The Water Polo violations involved Head Coach Wolf Wigo and his Assistant Coach Ryan McMillen providing impermissible recruiting inducements and extra benefits for two international student-athletes. According to the report, the Head Coach facilitated housing for a student athlete who arrived in Santa Barbara prior to his enrollment in the summer of 2015 so he could compete on a local club team. This arrangement led to other inducements for the student athlete, including free meals and transportation valued at $735.

In addition, both of the international student athletes received improper compensation for their work as coaches at the Water Polo Club (Santa Barbara Premier) co-owned by Wigo and McMillen. The athletes were paid a monthly stipend which equaled the precise amount of their rent (ranging between $587 and 790 per month) and the payment was made directly from the Club to the landlord. This stipend amount was well in excess of the hourly rates paid to other student athletes who also worked as coaches at the club. Finally, the athletes were occasionally paid for work not documented to have been performed. One example included a monthly payment for coaching when the student-athlete was in his home country, another was a month where the student-athlete was able to work only 7 hours.

UCSB vs Stanford

Will these events derail what has been a great year for the Gauchos? Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Level II violations—Level I is the most serious–are defined by the NCAA as a “significant breach of conduct” that provide an institution a “more than minimal but less than substantial impermissible benefit; or involves conduct that may compromise the integrity of the NCAA collegiate model”.


They are listed as failure to monitor, violations that do not amount to lack of institutional control, or multiple recruiting, financial aid, or eligibility violations. Wigo was personally involved in these violations and did not consult the UCSB Compliance department to determine if his conduct was within the NCAA By-Laws. The panel, which includes interim USC Athletic Director Dave Roberts, determined that Wigo failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance and classified his violations as Level II-Aggravated. This is UC Santa Barbara’s first Level I or II NCAA violation in its history.

As a result, committee used the Division I membership-approved infractions penalty guidelines to prescribe the following sanctions:
• Two years of probation.
• A 2018 postseason ban for the men’s water polo team (self-imposed by the university).
• A fine of $5,000 plus 1% of the budget of the men’s water polo program.
• A reduction of men’s water polo scholarships by 5% during the 2019-20 academic year (self-imposed by the university) and 7.5% during the 2020-21 academic year.
• A reduction of men’s water polo official paid visits by 12.5% during the 2018-19 academic year (self-imposed by the university) and 12.5% during the 2020-21 academic year.
• A prohibition of men’s water polo unofficial visits for a six-month period from April 2018 through September 2018 (self-imposed by the university) and a six-week period during the 2020-21 recruiting season.
• A one-year show-cause order for the assistant water polo coach. During that period, he must be suspended for 30% of the season’s contests. (to be served after the Head Coach serves his suspension)
• A two-year show-cause order for the head water polo coach. During that period, he must be prohibited from participating in all off-campus recruiting, and he must be suspended from the first 30% of the season’s contests during the first year of the period.
• A vacation of records in which the men’s water polo student-athletes competed while ineligible. The university must provide a written report containing the contests impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 14 days of the public decision release.
• A prohibition on recruiting communication with international prospects for the men’s water polo coaching staff from April 1, 2018, through Dec. 31, 2018 (self-imposed by the university).

Looking beyond the shock of today’s announcement, there are key questions to be answered in the coming weeks and months:
1) Which games will be vacated?
2) Are the ineligible players on the current roster?
3) When will the coaches serve their suspensions?
4) How will the recruiting limitations affect UCSB’s ability to recruit?
5) What becomes of the current season?
6) What decisions will UCSB Athletic Director John McCutcheon make about the Men’s Water Polo program?

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4 years ago

Nice article. UCSB states they “exercised appropriate institutional control”?–the fine print of that NCAA report (downloadable) indicates that they did not. It appears the trend these days is to lie and assume nobody will bother to check. Athletic Director John McCutcheon hired a U.of A. assistant basketball coach at $403,000 a year only to see him named in a Federal lawsuit. After presiding over the water polo debacle with clear-cut lack of institutional control one wonders if McCutcheon will be in a position to make any decisions. As for Wigo et al–the Cross Country Coach (also named) was fired for one level two violation and is suing UCSB. How any coach survives after his or her team is precluded from 2018 postseason play is inexplicable. I look forward to reading your followup in 14 days when UCSB releases their vacation of record.

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