The NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee (“Committee”) recently reviewed and affirmed the Committee on Infractions’ (“COI”) decision relating to the University of Southern California (“USC”).
The COI found that USC violated multiple NCAA bylaws including amateurism violations, impermissible extra benefits to student-athletes, family members, and friends, violations of coaching staff limits, impermissible recruiting contacts by a booster, impermissible inducements, and ultimately found that USC exhibited a lack of institutional control. The violations at issue relate primarily to benefits provided to elite student-athletes, Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo, based upon which the COI found that money was provided to the student-athletes and their friends and family during the time in which they were student-athletes. The COI, therefore, issued substantial penalties including 1) a post season ban for the men’s basketball and football teams; 2) vacation of victories; 3) limits on grants-in-aid in men’s basketball and football; 4) fines for amateurism violations; 5) return to the NCAA $206,020.00 for the men’s basketball team’s participation in NCAA championship events; 6) disassociation of student-athletes and representatives of athletics interest; and 7) a mandate to regulate access to locker rooms.
USC set forth its appeal and raised the following issues:
The Committee broke USC’s appeal into four (4) categories. First, the Committee addressed USC’s contention that “[t]he finding of unethical conduct is ‘contrary to the evidence, based on incompetent evidence and compromised by procedural….’” The Committee quickly and summarily disposed of this argument by stating USC does not have standing to a appeal this finding because the finding was made against USC’s former assistant football coach (Todd McNair) and not USC.
Second, the Committee addressed USC’s contention that “[t]he Committee on Infractions ‘erred in concluding that sports marketer A, sports marketer B and agency were representatives of USC’s athletic interests….’” USC complains that sports marketer A, sports marketer B and agency did not become representatives of athletics interest by merely hiring three (3) USC student-athletes for summer internships. In response, COI argued that it “weighed conflicting evidence” and ultimately concluded that the internship at least initially was created exclusively for student-athletes; therefore, sports marketer A, sports marketer B and agency constituted representatives of athletics interest. The Committee was persuaded that there is sufficient evidence to support COI’s conclusion regarding the issue and there is no basis to reverse these findings.
Third, the Committee addressed USC’s contention that “[t]he Committee on Infractions’ finding of lack of institutional control ‘should be set aside because some of the facts found by the committee did not constitute a violation of NCAA rules, and the committee failed to consider a number of mitigating factors.’” USC argued that COI based its finding of lack of institutional control on a “heightened duty” to monitor elite student-athletes, and no such “heightened duty” is mandated by NCAA legislation. The Committee noted that it did not believe that COI required such a heightened standard, but indicated high profile student-athletes present greater risks. Additionally, USC argued that this finding should be reversed because 1) COI was critical of student-athlete 1’s summer employment and disability insurance, yet found no violations regarding either; 2) the remaining issues related to the football program were “insufficient to support a finding of lack of institutional control;” and 3) COI failed to consider a number of mitigating factors when considering booster and agent involvement in men’s basketball recruiting. The Committee concluded that there is no basis to reverse COI’s finding of lack of institutional control and there was sufficient evidence to show USC failed to devote adequate resources to its compliance program.
Finally, USC argues the penalties imposed by COI were excessive and constitute an abuse of discretion and specifically state 1) COI “has imposed significantly lesser sanctions in major infractions cases based on similar violations;” 2) COI “abused its discretion in imposing a two-year post-season ban and drastic scholarship reductions in football for the violations in this case;” and 3) “the scholarship reductions are excessive, particularly when considering their unintended actual impact.” The Committee set forth the standard for analyzing an abuse of discretion by stating:
An abuse of dissection in the imposition of a penalty occurs if the penalty: 1) was not based on a correct legal standard or was based on a misapprehension of the underlying substantive legal principles; 2) was based on a clearly erroneous factual finding; 3) failed to consider and weigh material factors; 4) was based on a clear error of judgment, such that the imposition was arbitrary, capricious, or irrational; or 5) was based in significant part on one or more irrelevant or improper factors.
The Committee stated no abuse of discretion occurred based on the imposition of the two-year postseason ban or the grants-in-aid reduction. The Committee further noted that COI must have latitude in tailoring remedies to a particular circumstance or set of fact. Given the latitude afforded to the COI, it concluded there is no basis to conclude that COI departed from prior decisions.
In sum, the Committee denied USC’s appeal and the penalties accessed against it shall stand.