West Point's top officer Sunday took full blame for the school's recruiting violations this year that included courting high school football players with alcohol and VIP treatment on a raucous bus ride.

The incidents were first revealed in a  Saturday story in The Gazette.

"As superintendent, I take full responsibility for all actions that occur here at West Point to include the incident on January 25, 2014," Military Academy Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr. wrote in a statement on the academy's website. "I am fully committed to the values of West Point in all of our cadets and in all of our programs, and will ensure they are upheld to the highest of standards."

The incident involved 20 cadets, including 17 football players, and 14 recruits who were taken by a chartered bus under police escort to a bowling alley and bar at New York's Palisades Mall. There, cadets and recruits used entertainment money from the football team - $40 each - to buy alcohol. Football players involved, including Army starting quarterback Angel Santiago, are expected to play when Army hosts the Air Force Academy on Saturday.

Cadets reported drinking as many as seven drinks in 90 minutes before a bus ride home that included loud music, strobe lights and cheerleaders making out, a report obtained by the Gazette said. In another NCAA violation, excess cash was given to recruits and there was no formal accounting of the money.

All 20 cadets were punished, and two officers and two coaches were reprimanded. The academy reported the violation to the NCAA, which issued a warning to the school this month.

"I believe those involved in this incident have learned from their mistakes, corrected their behavior accordingly, and will have the character to be the leaders our Nation expects of its West Point graduates," Caslen wrote in the statement.

Caslen took issue with the school's account of events that said football officials waited weeks to tell leaders of the misconduct. The faculty representative for the team "did not intend to report" the recruit party, and told academy leaders after another complaint arose about the school asking female athletes to escort recruits to a dinner, the report obtained by The Gazette and confirmed by West Point said.

The superintendent says that didn't happen.

"There was no 'cover up,'" Caslen wrote.

The superintendent said the school stayed mum about the recruiting incident for nine months because of privacy concerns. Caslen also disputed findings in the academy's investigation of the trip that the police escort for the bus was designed to "give the recruits the full experience." He said "a single New York State Police officer" was needed to escort the bus along the busy Palisades Parkway. Caslen said it was later determined that the escort violated NCAA rules and has been "discontinued."

He also disputed the internal investigation finding that a football staffer sought female cadets to accompany football recruits to a dinner because "we want the recruits to see that the are pretty girls that go here."

"At no time did West Point arrange 'a dinner date with female cadets,'" Caslen wrote.

The superintendent also countered critics who say the punishment for those involved in the recruiting violations was too light.

"All 20 cadets were punished," Caslen wrote. "Maximum allowable punishment under the Cadet Disciplinary Code was administered for the most severe cases."

Caslen said West Point has worked to improve conduct in its athletic programs.

In June 2013, the school's rugby squad was temporarily disbanded over emails that denigrated female cadets, a Pentagon report on sexual assault at service academies issued in December said.

"We have programs that assess the climate and culture of our teams and clubs, and have taken action when assessments indicate the need to do so," Caslen wrote. "We have also commissioned outside consultants to review our workplace culture and policies for blind-spots and weaknesses."

The latest revelations out of West Point came as military academy athletic programs, including at the Air Force Academy, face increasing scrutiny for player misconduct. An August Gazette investigation into athlete conduct at Air Force found that football players had engaged in drug use, binge drinking, sexual assault and academic cheating.

Air Force Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson reacted to the player misconduct by launching a review of athletic programs and cracking down on player behavior.


Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

On Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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