College of Southern Nevada baseball losing 20 scholarships

The College of Southern Nevada baseball program will lose a total of 20 scholarships over the next two years, but avoided any further penalties, after a National Junior College Athletic Association investigation uncovered three rules violations under former coach and athletic director Chris Sheff.

Despite the ruling, which the school announced Tuesday, CSN remains eligible for the postseason and was not placed on probation by the NJCAA.

Instead, CSN will be limited to 14 scholarships, rather than the maximum of 24, beginning in the fall of 2011 and again for the 2012-13 school year.

"There is a sense of relief, especially because we will not lose postseason play," said Arthur Byrd, the school’s vice president for student affairs. "We are moving forward with a number of recommendations, and we’re going to ensure that we have a good, viable program and a productive program for young men who wish to play baseball at CSN."

Sheff was fired Nov. 3 without ever coaching a game at the school. His dismissal came one day after the school announced it would conduct an independent review of the baseball program to look into numerous allegations against Sheff and his coaching staff, including whether players were inappropriately charged for a mandatory conditioning program with personal trainer Corky Field of Live-In Fitness.

In a letter to Byrd detailing the NJCAA’s ruling, executive director Mary Ellen Leicht wrote that while there was no evidence to prove the $125 for the program was mandatory, "Any time a coach highly recommends his/her student-athletes take part in a program it is normally regarded as ‘mandatory’ in the eyes of the player."

Leicht also wrote that because the program was negotiated by Sheff and offered only to student-athletes, it was considered an "inducement and outside of the allowable scholarship limits," which constitutes a violation of NJCAA bylaws.

A fundraising activity conducted by Field in which players sent a letter to family and friends asking for donations to help pay for the conditioning program was also deemed a violation of NJCAA bylaws, according to Leicht’s letter.

In addition, the NJCAA ruled that an after-practice meal program arranged by assistant coach Scott Baker was a violation.

"Although violations of this nature could have resulted in the CSN baseball program being placed on probation for the current year, the NJCAA has taken into account the actions taken by the college to ensure future compliance with all association rules and regulations," Leicht wrote.

Byrd said that none of the current players will be in danger of losing their scholarship and does not expect any players to leave the team as a result of the sanctions. He also said that despite the eventual loss of scholarships, the program will continue to be successful.

The Coyotes captured the 2003 national championship and gained national recognition last season as they advanced to the NJCAA World Series behind star freshman Bryce Harper, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft in June.

"Certainly it will have some impact," Byrd said of the penalties. "One of the things we have here in the valley is … we have such a rich pool of talent, we believe and we’re confident that we will still be competitive. Again, we’re not losing all of our scholarships."

Sheff’s replacement, Nick Garritano, declined comment, referring all questions to Byrd and athletic director Marc Morse. Morse did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

Redshirt freshman pitcher Ryan Baker said he and his teammates are ready to put the ordeal behind them and start the season. The team is scheduled to play its first game Jan. 28 at Morse Stadium against Arizona Western College in the annual Coyote Border Battle.

"Ever since all this has happened, Coach Garritano has done an outstanding job of taking over this situation, and I admire him for that," Baker said. "I feel like we’re ready to rally around him. All we care about as a team is playing baseball."

Contact reporter David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal or 702-383-0294.

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