SAN DIEGO (AP) — The University of San Diego pulled itself out of the running for the Pioneer Football League championship and an FCS automatic playoff berth after uncovering potential financial aid violations.
The Toreros (7-3, 6-1) were in position to clinch the league title and their first FCS playoff berth if they beat Drake on Saturday.
Athletic director Ky Snyder said notifying the team of the school's decision before practice Thursday was "the most horrible thing I've had to do with kids. It was a very hard conversation."
Although the PFL is in the FCS, formerly Division I-AA, it follows Division III need-based financial aid rules that state schools can't take into consideration players' participation in athletics in high school. Snyder said that apparently happened "in some cases."
Football is the only non-scholarship sport at USD, a small hilltop Catholic school that overlooks Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Snyder said the PFL was formed in the 1990s by schools that wanted to keep football but didn't want to make it a scholarship sport.
"It's a more affordable way to keep football on our campus," Snyder said.
Snyder said he couldn't comment on whether the potential violations occurred under the current coaching staff or previous staffs.
"Our review is ongoing," he said. "This is going to be a while."
In a statement, university President Mary E. Lyons said the financial-aid issue was specific to football. She said the school reported its initial findings to the PFL and pledged cooperation in any additional review. With the endorsement of a committee of trustees appointed by the school's board, the decision was made to pull out of the running for the league title and playoff spot, she said.
"I recognize the impact that this situation has on our student athletes, Torero Athletics and our entire university community. Our response now and going forward reflects a commitment to our students and to the highest standards of integrity," Lyons said in the statement. "To that end, complying with applicable rules and regulations in the administration of our intercollegiate athletic programs continues to be our unwavering commitment."
The Toreros are under first-year coach Dale Lindsey, a former NFL defensive coordinator who was promoted to replace Ron Caragher after he left for San Jose State late last year.
Lindsey was USD's defensive coordinator last year, when the Toreros were 8-3 and earned a share of the Pioneer Football League title.
The Toreros are perhaps best known for being coached by Jim Harbaugh from 2004-06 before he moved on to coach Stanford and then the San Francisco 49ers.