Courier ends run without answers for its FOI request from NWACC
By Emily Sisk
The verdict was in, but questions remained unanswered.
On Feb. 27, Chemeketa’s basketball team was stripped of all season wins and the division title.
The Northwest Athletic Conference punished the team for playing freshman Keith Bowen Jr., who was deemed ineligible due to previously playing in a lower-level professional league before attending Chemeketa.
During the investigation of the ruling and the violations, the Courier contacted NWACC’s compliance manager, Jim Jackson, asking for the source of the tip to the league that violations had taken place, in accordance with NWACC rules.
After two phone calls and two emails, Jackson provided a statement.
“It came from outside of the NWAC and surfaced, unfortunately, at the end of the season because the individual who knew the young man’s past had only recently been back in the area,” he said.
NWACC officials would not provide additional information on the tip, despite numerous Courier requests. Instead, league officials continually responded by stating that all information needed to come from Cassie Belmodis, Chemeketa’s athletic director.
Belmodis said she did not know the origins of the tip.
On March 16, the Courier emailed a Freedom of Information Act request, known in Oregon as a Public Records Request, to the league in an attempt to get answers as to how league officials initially received information regarding Bowen’s ineligibility. All documents concerning the tip from the unknown source were requested.
Marco Azurdia, the league’s executive director, exchanged telephone calls with the Courier and eventually sent an official response to the FOI request. However, the response did not provide the information that was requested.
“We have no written document that reflects who notified our office of the possible violation,” Azurdia wrote.
Azurdia did, however, disclose that the information about Bowen was first overheard by Jackson in a conversation.
The NWACC codebook is publicly available online. Article VII, Section 1 A, states that all claims regarding a player’s ineligibility must be given to the league in written form, not vocally.
“If there is a complaint charging the failure of any member college to comply with athletic standards as required by the provisions of the NWAC code, or the failure of any member to meet the conditions and obligations as outlined in the NWAC Code and Adopted Sports Rules and Regulations, the complainant must first contact the NWAC Compliance Manager in writing notifying the him/her of the issue,” the codebook states.
The Courier contacted Azurdia multiple times to fulfill the request; he was phoned eight times and emailed five times.
After conferring with Chemeketa officials, the Courier contacted members of the NWACC’s executive board on May 4 in the hopes that they could finally shed some light on what occurred.
Ten of the 12 members were emailed: Marilyn Anderson, athletic commissioner, Bellevue; chairman Mark Yoshino, athletic commissioner, Bellevue; athletic director Ken Burrus, Spokane; athletic director Duncan Stevenson, Pierce; athletic commissioner Shelley Bannish, Centralia; athletic director Dick Magruder, Portland; president Dr. David Beyer, Everett; president Dr. Patty Scott, Southwest Oregon; vice president/student services Kori Bieber, Rogue Community College; and vice president/student services Darren Pitcher, Spokane Falls Community College.
None of the members responded to the email or provided requested information.
On May 11, in another attempt to have the league fulfil the FOI request, an email was sent to Azurdia asking him to provide the contact information of his direct superior.
After getting no response from Azurdia, another email was sent requesting the previous information on May 17.
The next morning, Chemeketa attorney Rebecca Hillyer received a voice message from David Stolier, the Washington State assistant attorney general, on behalf of NWACC. He wanted to set up a meeting to discuss the “spitting match” between the Courier and the league.
Hillyer met with the Courier on May 22 before discussing the matter with Stolier. She disclosed that she had been told little about the violations and had been unaware of the FOI request until after receiving Stolier’s voice mail.
Hillyer also spoke with several Chemeketa staff members before her conversation with Stolier and was able to determine why there was no process with NWACC after the violations were found.
According to Hillyer, Belmodis and David Abderhalden, the men’s basketball coach, were made aware of Bowen’s possible violation the day after Jackson overheard the rumor in a conversation.
During the next couple of days, Belmodis and Abderhalden investigated the claims and found them to be substantially true. They then notified NWACC and admitted that Bowen had in fact violated the codebook.
“There was no process because Chemeketa cooperated fully,” Hillyer said.
Because of this, the time between Jackson first hearing about the violations and the ruling made by the league was short, and Chemeketa did not resist scrutiny.
When asked if Chemeketa should have decided to make NWACC follow the protocols stated in its codebook instead of accepting immediate punishment , Hillyer said, “I’m proud of them. They did they right thing.”
She also indicated that the incident could result in a change to league provisions.
“Cassie has actually been working with the league to change the violations section of the codebook,” she said.
The discussions between Hillyer, Stolier, and Chemeketa athletic officials produced several documents that were exchanged between the Chemeketa staff and the league relating to the violations that had not been previously disclosed. A Public Records Request was filed by the Courier on May 27, and the documents were immediately obtained.
In an April 7 email to David Hallett, Chemeketa’s executive dean, Azurdia addressed Hallett’s letter of appeal regarding a $1,000 fine that was included in Chemeketa’s penalties. Hallett had argued that the fine should be lessened to $250 because Chemeketa had complied fully with the league and the codebook and had cut the process short for NWACC.
Azurdia disagreed with the proposal but later reduced the fine to $500.
The Courier also obtained a copy of an email from Bowen to the league that was sent two days after Chemeketa began investigating the claims. He detailed time spent with the Las Vegas Defenders of the American Basketball Association in the fall of 2012, where he’d been promised $50 per game.
“I was a participant in two of the games for an accumulation of no more than 5 minutes before I quit the team due to the organization not paying,” Bowen wrote.
Bowen had previously stated that he thought he had not violated the NWACC amateur status rule because he had not received any money from the ABA for playing.
Hillyer spoke to Stolier by telephone regarding the FOI request on May 27. During the conversation, Stolier admitted to having never seen most of the emails exchanged between NWACC officials and the Courier, including an email from Jackson refusing compliance and referring all questions to Belmodis. Stolier had requested of NWACC officials copies of all documents related to the investigation.
After seeing the emails, and Jackson’s in particular, Stolier said that he would educate the league on how to deal with Public Records Requests in the future.
Meanwhile, most key details about the origins of the initial tip-off to the violations remain unanswered by NWACC, including who provided the initial tip to the league.