Financial aid inconsistencies root of Oxbridge sports teams’ forfeits

Updated Aug 02, 2016

Billionaire Bill Koch’s Oxbridge Academy, reeling from allegations of financial favoritism toward football players, will forfeit its past two years of sports victories to stave off a potential years-long ban by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

The FHSAA, which regulates Florida high school sports, sent the West Palm Beach private school a letter June 9 demanding the school investigate reports in The Palm Beach Post and New York Times that indicated its athletic program “may have violated FHSAA bylaws and policies.” Oxbridge Academy Foundation President and CEO David Rosow said the school’s investigators subsequently “uncovered numerous improprieties, or ‘impermissible’ activities,” involving “inconsistent application of administrative procedures with regard to student financial aid.”

According to FHSAA spokesman Kyle Niblett, the school was inconsistent in how it distributed financial aid to student athletes and could not document how aid decisions were made.

“Some (athletes) were getting 100 percent and others were getting zero but there was no rhyme or reason why this kid got it or this kid did not,” he said.

Niblett said the school conducted its own investigation, recommended its own penalty — the forfeitures — and the association accepted it without adding sanctions.

“We looked into what they’re currently doing and right now Oxbridge Academy is in compliance with FHSAA and its policies,” Niblett said.

Rosow explained in a letter to parents the reasons for Oxbridge’s decision to self-impose sanctions.

“Our violations exposed us to a range of possible reactions by FHSAA and some could have been devastating to Oxbridge and its athletic program,” Rosow wrote to parents on Monday. “We volunteered to forfeit the past two years of victories in any FHSAA games as a penalty for the violations, none of which, by the way, were a result of any student misconduct or parent misrepresentations.”

But some student-athletes did not like that decision.

“I just think it is unfair to kids like myself and others that put in so many hours of work and so many weekends to making our sports program into a dominant force to be ruined in two minutes,” said Noah Singer, an Oxbridge football placekicker and soccer player who graduated in May.

“I will never forget the wins and the memories I had with my teams. No matter what the rulings are or how many wins we officially lost, we all know who won those games and who deserved to win them,” said Singer, an incoming freshman at New York University’s Shanghai campus. “… I just feel bad for the students and players and even coaches to have wins taken away in something that, to the kids, was completely uncontrollable.”

In April, The Palm Beach Post reported that past and present employees said the five-year-old school had a working environment led by President and CEO Robert C. Parsons that was fraught with firings, high turnover, accusations of sexual harassment and an emphasis tilting from academics to athletics. School officials acknowledged they admitted some students on scholarship who didn’t read past third-grade level but surrounded them with special staff to bring them up to speed.

Chairman Koch fired Parsons and declined to renew athletics director Craig Sponsky’s and football coach Doug Socha’s contracts and hired an investigative team that included an ex-FBI agent, a forensic accountant and the school’s employment law firm.

Sponsky has sued the school for defamation. His attorney, Jack Scarola, said Tuesday that Rosow’s letter is proof the school is continuing to scapegoat the athletic director.

While the forfeiture serves as a penalty, it also could serve to buttress the school’s legal defense by indicating that Sponsky’s department participated in wrongdoing — which Sponsky disputes.

“We continue to take the position that the school was confronted with a serious public relations problem,” Scarola said. “They needed a scapegoat and unfortunately Craig was among those chosen to be sacrificed. He did nothing wrong, he violated no FHSAA rules or regulations, he implemented the policies that were established by Bill Koch and the Oxbridge board, and they are simply continuing to attempt to deflect the public criticism that was focused on the school.”

Former Oxbridge ThunderWolves’ defensive end Victor Alvarez told The Post on Monday he was upset at news of the forfeitures.

“Everything we did was well-earned,” he said. “Due to the fact that a lot of students may or may not have had the money to be there, football and Oxbridge’s academic rigor was their way out …

“Having a football team that was made from scratch be stripped of its wins due to something this minor is foolish and upsetting to most.”

In recent months, the school has looked for ways to trim athletic department costs, reviewing how many students participate in its sports programs. “Conclusions to date indicate that student participation levels in some sports don’t support the associated costs, such as rowing,” Rosow told The Post.