The violations were unintentional and the result of a misunderstanding of NCAA policies, school spokesman Blake Fry said.
A Division III infractions committee concluded athletic ability was improperly used as a criteria for financial aid between the 2007-08 through 2011-12 academic years. That allowed five former or current athletes to receive a total of $4,090 in impermissible aid, a lengthy NCAA report said.
"A further major violation occurred when the institution allowed the head football coach to be involved in arranging financial aid packages for approximately four years," the NCAA said.
The probation period began immediately and expires April 22, 2015.
In a statement, River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen said that the school had self-reported the violations "as soon as we became aware that they had occurred and current university leaders have taken proactive and corrective actions to ensure that the previous errors will not be repeated."
An NCAA press release did not refer to the coach by name, and it was not immediately clear if the coach was identified in the NCAA report.
The school's statement referred to the violations in connection with a former head coach, whom Fry identified as John O'Grady. He had been at River Falls for 21 seasons until 2010, and Fry said the coach retired.
O'Grady went on to assistant coaching jobs at Wisconsin campuses at Oshkosh and Stout. He was recently hired as a tight ends coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater, a Division III powerhouse and the defending national champion.
Contact information was not listed for O'Grady on Whitewater's athletic department website. The Associated Press left a message for a Whitewater athletic department spokeswoman.
Matt Walker replaced O'Grady as head coach at River Falls in 2011. The current coaching staff has no connection to the violations, Fry said.
River Falls "did not monitor its scholarship process when it did not adequately educate university staff involved in the scholarship process, allowed the head coach to choose scholarship recipients for four years and by failing to detect the violations," the NCAA said in a statement.
River Falls athletic director Roger Ternes said the school has implemented measures over the last three years to improve compliance, including the establishment of "rules education workshops."
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