The NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee (“Committee”) recently reviewed the Committee on Infractions’ (“COI”) decision relating to the former head football coach at Texas Southern University (“TSU”). COI found that the former head coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance and imposed a three-year show cause penalty, ordered the former head coach to attend the NCAA Regional Rules Seminar all three years of the show cause penalty, ordered the former head coach to attend an ethics course during the first year of the show cause penalty, and precluded the former head coach from all on- and off-campus recruiting activities during the show cause period.
On appeal, the former head coach asserted that the finding of failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance was clearly contrary to the evidence presented and should be set aside. The former head coach also argued that the show-cause penalty and the preclusion against on- and off-campus recruiting are excessive such that they constitute an abuse of discretion by COI and should be vacated.
Review of Failure to Promote an Atmosphere of Compliance
In his attempt to demonstrate that the finding of failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance was clearly contrary to the evidence presented, the former head coach relied on arguments related to the credibility of evidence and highlighted information that he believes supports vacation of the finding of a violation. Specifically, the former head coach indicated that TSU’s president’s comments at the hearing before COI that the former head coach and TSU’s former compliance officer knowingly violated NCAA rules was unsupported by the evidence. The Committee pointed out that it is COI’s duty to determine whether information presented is credible and persuasive and, thus, not the Committee’s role. As such, the Committee affirmed the findings of COI and concluded that the findings were not clearly contrary to the evidence.
Review of Penalties
The Committee may set aside a penalty imposed if it is “excessive such that it constitutes abuse of discretion.” In reviewing the penalties imposed by COI, the Committee set forth the standard for abuse of discretion, according to the Alabama State University case, as follows:
“[A]n abuse of discretion in the imposition of a penalty occurs if the penalty: (1) was not based on a correct legal standard or was based on the 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.”
In this matter, the show cause penalty imposed with recruiting restrictions was imposed, in part, against the former head football coach because he agreed to award football scholarships to basketball student-athletes to circumvent the basketball team’s aid limitations. COI imposed such penalties, but did not make a specific finding relating to the award of scholarships to basketball student-athletes. Although the Committee chastised COI for failing to make an explicit finding, it reasoned that the Committee made a finding by implication. After reviewing the record and show cause precedents, the Committee concluded that the three year show cause penalty was not excessive such that it constitutes an abuse of discretion.