When Brittany Collens and I connected on LinkedIn I did what I lately started doing, invite her to introduce herself to our readers. Her reply piqued my interest: "Glad we connected. You may find my story more interesting than who I am! But I’m happy to introduce myself. Let me share a link with you in what recently has been going on as I start to work with Senators on legislative change for college athletes."
UMass Women Taking On the NCAA
Unfair NCAA Decision Wipes out Two Years of Accomplishments Over a $252 Phone Jack
by Rich Neher
Please read to the end and sign the petition to help restore Brittany Collens's reputation
(and that of her teammates and their coach)
Brittany Collens is a professional tennis player on the WTA Tour. Her LinkedIn profile states, "I graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where I studied journalism with a sports concentration as well as economics. During my college career, I worked as a writer for the athletic department's media relations as well as a host for UVC-TV's UMass Sports Weekly. I've had great internships such as North Shore's 104.9 and Major League Lacrosse. Currently, I am pursuing my dream of being a professional tennis player. One day I hope to use my platform to help less fortunate people whether it be through my own foundation or others."
In 2013/2014 Brittany played on the Div 1 team at New Mexico State University. Then she transferred to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she also played on the Div 1 team from 2014-2017. Both times she was fortunate to play tennis and attend university on a full athletic scholarship. She graduated from Umass with a degree in Journalism.
Brittany's UMass tennis team was quite successful. In 2017, the last year of legendary UMass Coach Judy Dixon, the team won the Atlantic-10 Championship.
What's the fuzz over $252?
Howard Bryant, Senior Writer for ESPN tries to explain the current situation regarding the exchange of cash, recruiting-payment schemes, and other improprieties in college football and basketball in his Nov 3 article "NCAA gives UMass tennis a harsh lesson in power -- over a phone jack."
Bryant seems to point out that the fines imposed by the NCAA are relatively tame considering the exorbitant transgressions they are dealing with in those two sports. He finishes his look at all those confusing more or less important cases and rulings with a bang: "Last month, the NCAA decided enough was enough, and it dropped the harshest and most unforgiving punishment on -- wait for it -- the University of Massachusetts women's tennis team."
He goes on to explain what happened at UMass. Apparently, during an internal investigation that found a total of $9,187 in overpayments between the women's tennis and the men's basketball team, the university detected a clerical error and self-reported to the NCAA that two players on the women's tennis team received "improper benefits" in the form of reimbursement for a phone jack in the players' off-campus apartment, a phone jack they reportedly didn't even know they had and didn't use because they have cellphones.
Self-reporting? Was that a good idea?
In hindsight, probably not. Bryant writes, "UMass admitted the mistake, using the NCAA's system of self-reporting, and agreed to pay a fine of $5,000, only to have the NCAA's committee on infractions reject the settlement because it did not include vacating wins from both sports." UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford state that this was the largest penalty possible despite their testifying they gained no advantage whatsoever from the $252 benefits given the players. He said, "We admitted we made clerical errors, but we did not compromise the collegiate model. Our women's tennis team essentially forfeited a conference championship because of a telecom fee, a fee which, by the way, doesn't even exist anymore. It was eliminated because everyone uses cellphones. There's no need to pay for a hardwired phone jack anymore."
Had the university not been diligent, the NCAA would have never known about a $252 overpayment on a phone jack. "By ignoring its own recommendations in favor of harsher penalties, the NCAA has yet again given every school pause about whether to self-report."
If the effects of the fines weren't so serious for the players, I'd find the entire affair like something out of Homer Simpson's playbook.
Bryant writes that "UMass received two years' probation, self-imposed a $5,000 fine and had the records and matches from two seasons, 2015-16-and 2016-17, expunged." Brittany is not happy, of course. She says, "The NCAA decision to vacate the wins erases two-thirds of my UMass career. It's like I never played there."
Bryant concludes that since the NCAA decision was not a proportional and appropriate response, they need to be regarded as totally corrupted. He continues, "The NCAA has overreached into corruption, and the collateral damage of that corruption and overreach is something as important to UMass, Judy Dixon, Ryan Bamford and especially Brittany Collens as anything in the world: their reputations. There will be no complete historical record of Collens' career at UMass. At first glance (and most people do not take the time to give a second), Dixon's former program and Bamford's department are being treated like cheaters. There is nothing proportional about the NCAA decision."
What recourse does Brittany Collens have?
Technically, very little. However, that didn't stop Brittany and her teammates from starting a petition on change.org. Supporting UMass against the NCAA has gained them over 6,900 signatures so far and she is actually communicating with a Connecticut Senator who had reached out to her. I love it especially since I have good experience with change.org fighting to keep 16 local tennis courts here in Southern California.
Here's where our readers can help. SIGN THE PETITION HERE. The site has more information and links to other articles that you may find helpful
And you don't have to be a current or former athlete of the NCAA to sign it. Every tennis player, pro, coach, manager, facility owner, coordinator should help in my humble opinion.