EDITORS’ NOTE: This story first appeared in The Shelby Star and is used here with permission.
BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. (BP)–Gardner-Webb University President Chris White personally ordered the school’s registrar to use a different university grading policy for a former star basketball player who had been caught cheating, according to a memo obtained by The Shelby Star. The memo resulted in Carlos Webb becoming eligible when he otherwise would have been ineligible.
White’s signed memo has led the NCAA — the governing body for college athletics — to begin looking into that and other aspects of the Gardner-Webb athletic program. NCAA investigators could arrive on campus as early as the week of Sept. 16.
The Star also has obtained documents which reveal that former Gardner-Webb women’s basketball coach Eddie McCurley resigned after admitting buying a plane ticket and toiletry items for a basketball player recruited from Poland.
White, in a Sept. 9 interview, admitted that the McCurley incident is a “major violation,” which has been reported to the NCAA. He said the university is investigating at least one more secondary violation.
The Atlantic Sun Conference, which Gardner-Webb joined in June 2001 after its recent move to Division I, also is investigating the university.
“The Atlantic Sun Conference has participated with the institution in the investigation of facts as they’ve come to be known,” said Steve Sturek, the conference’s associate commissioner for compliance and legal affairs. “I’m not able to give you any specific details with regards to the investigation, since it’s ongoing.”
The NCAA would “neither confirm nor deny any ongoing investigation,” said Laronica Conway, NCAA assistant director of media relations.
A special meeting of the Gardner-Webb faculty has been called on Sept. 10 to discuss “issues involving the athletic department,” according to academic dean Gil Blackburn. He would not comment further. White confirmed he wrote the memo regarding 2000-2001 Gardner-Webb basketball star Carlos Webb, who led the team in scoring his senior season and was featured on the cover of the 2000 media guide.
White said the decision “had nothing to do with athletics” and that he made the change because “a student was badly advised.”
Shortly before the start of the 2000 basketball season, The Star has learned, Webb did not have the academic standing to be eligible to play basketball. A key factor was an Introduction to Religion class he took in the fall semester of 1999. Webb was caught cheating in the class and given a failing grade.
Webb retook the class in the summer semester and made a “D.”
Under Gardner-Webb policy, when a student fails a class, retakes it and passes, the failing grade is dropped. For example, if the student makes a “C” when he retakes the class, then a “C” would be the final grade for the course.
But there is one exception, explained in the Gardner-Webb undergraduate catalog: “Students are allowed to retake courses that they fail due to academic dishonesty; however, the course hours attempted will continue to be calculated in figuring the student’s grade point average.”
That means Webb’s “D” from his retaking of the class should have been averaged with the “F” he received after being caught cheating.
It was calculated that way as the start of basketball season approached. The result left Webb ineligible to play.
But White’s memo, dated Oct. 30, 2000, just 18 days before the season-opener, changed everything.
The memo was from White to Gardner-Webb registrar Stephen Sain, subject: Carlos Devon Webb:
“Please allow the regular repeat rule to be used regarding Mr. Webb’s grade for Religion 102 (Fall 99 and Summer 2000). That means that his grade for the summer school class is a normal repeat. My decision is based on my investigation into the circumstances regarding his grades.”
The memo, in essence, changed Webb’s grade from a “D” and “F,” averaged together, to a “D.” The grade change meant Webb became eligible to start the basketball season.
White said Webb was given bad advice by a “senior level” official at the school. White refused to identify the official. That official told Webb that the regular repeat rule would be used if he retook the class, White said.
“When a senior level official does a dumb thing like that, it puts me in a bad position,” White said. “But we put the student’s welfare first.”
White’s move also helped the men’s basketball team that year. Webb went on to average 16.3 points per game as Gardner-Webb posted a 22-10 record. Webb was named Most Valuable Player as the Bulldogs captured the men’s NCCAA (National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association) basketball tournament crown on their home floor.
White said he had the authority to make the change.
“People operate under the assumption that the president has the final say,” he said. “It’s an accepted practice in higher education.”
But, White said, that authority isn’t written anywhere in Gardner-Webb’s handbooks or guidelines.
“That’s what we’re reporting, that we don’t have it written in the literature,” he said.
White said the other secondary infraction being investigated by Gardner-Webb involves financial aid.
“The last two years the university was following its own policy on financial aid,” White said. “It was discovered the NCAA policy is slightly different.
“We’re talking about a very, very small amount of money. It’s clearly an inadvertent thing,” he said.