In March 2008, his arrival brought joy, anticipation and excitement. Now, just three years later, his departure leaves sadness, shock and disbelief.On March 1 the college announced that Rich Alercio had resigned as head coach of the Castleton State College football team due to a violation of NCAA rules. He resigned at the request of a college committee including President Dave Wolk and Athletic Director Deanna Tyson.
Alercio allegedly arranged a meeting between an unnamed player on the team and a part-time employee of the college. The meeting resulted in the co-signing of three separate loans over a two-year period, something that the NCAA describes as an “extra benefit.” The loans totaled close to $22,000.
“It’s been a dreadful week for me,” Alercio said. “It’s been devastating to me, for my family, and it looked like it was devastating for the players. It was difficult to explain to my players, to my young children and to my wife. It really hurts right now because this was my dream job. I worked for around 20 years to get this opportunity.”
Alercio said that one of the most disappointing things was the way the college decided to resolve the situation.
“I admit that a violation occurred, but I just wish the college would have supported me more than it did based on the two years’ worth of positive things I did with the program and in the community. Based on everything I had done for the college and the community, I really expected that they would stand by me in this, but obviously they did not,” he said.
Alercio, a resident of Rutland, said one positive thing from the ordeal has been the support he has received from the community that he tried so hard to help.
“The support has been really overwhelming for me, he said. “It has made this week even more emotional. It really has been an emotional rollercoaster for me and for my family.”
But the community seems to be torn with many praising the college for its handling of the situation.
“I don’t know what’s going on in Rutland as far as how they feel about it,” Tyson said. “I can say I was surprised today about [the amount of support the college has received]. I probably got about 10 phone calls in support of what we did and that we made the right decision.”
But as far as players are concerned, they’re behind their former coach, according to co-captain Adam Chicoine.
“He probably had one of the highest football IQ’s out of any college coach I have met,” Chicoine said. “It’s safe to say that, every player would say they respected him not only as a coach, but a family man as well.”
Alercio said that while his main goal right now is to “stabilize [his] family,” it’s hard not to think about the future of his career.
“I really hope this won’t ruin my career as a football coach,” he said. “But it just may because this has been so damaging to me and to my reputation.”
“Quickly and Decisively”
The ramifications of the situation do not stop with Alercio, though, as the unnamed player and the college are also facing consequences from the violation.
Tyson said that the unnamed player is currently ineligible play to football for the college, but there is hope that that will change.
“Because we did self-report the incident, he becomes automatically ineligible,” she said.
According to Tyson, The NCAA will investigate the player’s ineligibility and then send the findings to an infractions committee.
Wolk was quick to point out that the player should not be blamed for the violation.
“The player was not at fault here. He didn’t know that it was a NCAA violation, and why would he?” Wolk said, adding that Alercio acknowledged arranging a meeting between the player and employee to discuss ways of getting financial help.
When asked if he thought Alercio knew he was doing something wrong, Wolk paused.
“He will tell you that he didn’t know that it was a violation of a NCAA rule,” Wolk said. “He’s been coaching for 20 years, and he reached out to help one player out of 90. I bet there are probably 70 or so that are on financial aid since about 85 percent of Castleton students are on financial aid.”
Section 16 of the 2010-2011 NCAA Division III Manual, explains the violation.
“An extra benefit is any special arrangement by an institutional employee or a representative of the institution’s athletics interests to provide a student-athlete or the student-athlete’s relative or friend a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation,” the manual states. “Receipt of a benefit by student-athletes or their relatives or friends is not a violation of NCAA legislation if it is demonstrated that the same benefit is generally available to the institution’s students.”
Alercio said he was just trying to help out a student in need.
“The kid needed help so he could stay in school and get his education,” Alercio told the Associated Press in a USATODAY.com article. “The [part-time employee] didn’t provide him with any money. He helped him qualify for a loan. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t see that as a problem. But according to the NCAA, it is.”
Tyson described Alercio’s first reaction to news of the violation as surprise.
“He was kind of like, ‘You’re questioning me about this?’ Then after he thought about it, when it came to realization, he was like, ‘What does this mean?'” she said.
Wolk said the college responded “quickly and decisively” to the violation, which a college employee first reported to Tyson in late January.
Tyson, who has never had to deal with a NCAA violation in her 11 years with the college, may have been one of the most surprised by the information.
“My first reaction was I was shocked. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?'” Tyson said. “Then I thought, ‘Well, we’ve never had a violation before. This can’t be right; this can’t be a violation.’ Then when I started to investigate and found out it was a violation, I was like, ‘Wow, this is real serious,'” she said.
Wolk said that announcing the violation to the public was very important to him.
Dealing with the NCAA
One of the hardest parts of the investigation was figuring out how to self-report the incident to the NCAA, something that isn’t explained in the NCAA manual, which Wolk admitted he has read cover to cover recently.
The college’s hope is that the punishment handed down might be reduced because of the self-reporting.
According to Wolk, the transparency of the investigation is already paying off because the NCAA has assured the college that it will try to reach a decision on what punishment, if any, will be handed down within the next few weeks instead of the months it usually takes.
The college is preparing for a wide range of punishments including probation, fines, victories being taken away and recruiting restrictions.
“One of the reasons I wanted to act decisively and tell the truth was because it doesn’t always happen that way in college, and I’m hoping they will realize that we have taken this seriously,” Wolk said. “I have to look at the big picture, and I don’t want the student athletes to be penalized any further than they have been by this already.”
Tyson also cautioned that Castleton must be extra careful in the near future.
“If we have another violation within the next five years, whether it’s a secondary or a major, then we’re going to be in trouble,” she said. “It’s gonna be not a good situation for our teams.”
Alercio believes that to protect itself from any future violations, the college needs to implement a stronger program to help coaches identify NCAA violations.
“It’s disappointing to me because three other coaches knew of the [co-signing], but they didn’t know it was a violation either,” Alercio said. “So I do believe there should be new programs initiated just so that another life and career isn’t ruined by something like this.”
Tyson, who said that she has all coaches, assistant coaches and even graduate assistants take the 50-question open book test on NCAA rules, agreed with Alercio.
“We will do something just so that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Tyson said. “I felt confident [before this violation]. Like I said, I’ve been here 11 years and never had a violation before. But [implementing new programs] is one of the things the NCAA looks for so this doesn’t happen again: what you can do and what your institution is going to do to prevent this from happening again.”
The End of a Brief Era
Despite the unfortunate circumstances of Alercio’s last days with the program, Wolk said he is still proud of the man the college hired in 2008.
“I think he did a wonderful job in getting our program started,” he said. “He was a good coach, a great teacher, and I would have felt that way even if we didn’t have a winning season last year.”
Alercio’s final moments with the team came during a meeting on March 1, when he announced his resignation and the violation to the entire football program.
While one of the main goals between all parties involved was to allow the players to hear the news first, unfortunately, according to Chicoine, many members of the team heard about the coach’s resignation just prior to the start of the meeting.
“It was actually a complete shock to all of us, to be honest with you,” Chicoine said. “We all found out about five minutes before our mandatory team meeting. I think that under these tough circumstances, though, President Wolk, Ms. Tyson, and our coaching staff handled it the best they could.