On October 7, 2016, the Committee on Infractions (“COI”) issued its report in which COI found violations of NCAA legislation in the women’s basketball program. On the basis of those findings, COI determined this was a major infractions case and imposed penalties accordingly. The case related to the women’s basketball program centered on violations of NCAA bylaws governing academic fraud, unethical conduct, impermissible contact and head coach’s responsibility.
Penalties Imposed by COI
COI imposed a show-cause order because of the involvement of the former head women’s basketball coach in the violations. The show-cause order imposed as set forth in COI’s infraction decision is as follows:
The former head basketball coach failed to monitor the actions of two of his staff members over a five-week period. His lack of monitoring allowed these staff members to commit academic fraud on behalf of two student-athletes who needed additional summer coursework in order to earn their associate’s degrees. The former head basketball coach admitted that he knew both student-athletes needed additional academic work in order to enroll in the institution. Similarly, the former head basketball coach admitted that the student-athletes’ academic backgrounds were different than student-athletes he had previously recruited. Finally, the former head basketball coach had just formed his new staff and had previously never worked with the former director of basketball operations and former assistant basketball coach. Irrespective of his lack of familiarity with these new staff members, the former head basketball coach delegated recruiting and academic responsibilities to them without monitoring their activities. Therefore, the former head basketball coach will be informed in writing by the NCAA that should he be employed or affiliated in an athletically related position at another NCAA member institution during a two-year period, from October 7, 2016, through October 6, 2018, within 30 days of his hiring, that employing institution shall ask for a date to appear before a hearing panel to show cause why restrictions on all athletically related activity should not apply.
Committee’s Resolution of the Issues Raised on Appeal
In his written appeal, the former head women’s basketball coach asserted that the finding of violation against him should be set aside because it is clearly contrary to the evidence presented to the COI; facts found by COI do not constitute a violation; and procedural error occurred and but for the error, COI would not have made the finding of violation. Further, the former head coach asserted COI abused its discretion in prescribing the show-cause order.
Pursuant to Bylaw 188.8.131.52, a hearing panel’s factual findings and its conclusion that one or more violations occurred shall not be set aside on appeal except on a showing by the appealing party that:
a. A factual finding is clearly contrary to the information presented to the panel;
b. The facts found by the panel do not constitute a violation of the NCAA constitution and bylaws; or
c. There was a procedural error and but for the error, the panel would not have made the finding or conclusion.
“A showing that there was some information that might have supported a contrary result will not be sufficient to warrant setting aside a finding nor will a showing that such information might have outweighed the information on which the committee based a finding. The Infractions Appeals Committee . . . will set aside a finding only on a showing that information that might have supported a contrary result clearly outweighed the information on which the Committee on Infractions based the finding.” University of Mississippi, Infractions Appeals Committee Public Report May 1, 1995, Page No. 10.
The hearing panel determines the credibility of the evidence.
The former head women’s basketball coach argued COI erroneously determined that he “failed to monitor a prospective student athlete’s coursework at a previous institution.” Appeal Page No. 2. However, the failure to monitor a prospective student-athlete’s coursework was not the issue. Rather, COI actually found the former head women’s basketball coach violated Bylaw 184.108.40.206 as he “failed to monitor two staff members’ activities surrounding two student-athletes’ online coursework.” COI Public Infractions Decision Page No. 19 (emphasis added).
The head coach’s responsibility bylaw was created to define a head coach’s obligation to promote a culture of compliance as well as monitor the activities of his or her staff. NCAA Division I Proposal No. 2004-102 and NCAA Bylaw 220.127.116.11. The membership believed that too often, when assistant coaches or other administrators involved with the program are involved in serious violations, head coaches profess ignorance regarding such violations while indicating such responsibilities were entrusted to their assistants. Id. A head coach should be presumed to have knowledge and, therefore, responsibility for the actions of those individuals associated with his or her team whom the coach directly or indirectly supervises. Id.
Individuals charged with a failure to monitor the activities of their assistant coaches may present evidence to demonstrate they in fact monitored his or her staff members. In this case, the former head women’s basketball coach failed to demonstrate that he implemented a hands-on approach to spot checking and a propensity to actively look for and evaluate red flags for potential violations and asking pointed questions; engage in ongoing dialogue to review any potential issues involving prospective or current student-athletes; or otherwise undertake affirmative actions to monitor his assistant coaches. During his hearing before COI, the former head women’s basketball coach discussed his approach for leadership and monitoring his staff. He made his assistant coaches “head coaches” of assigned areas and trusted that they would do the right thing. COI Hearing Transcript, Page Nos. 158 – 159 and 168 – 170. Given the academic standing of the student-athletes under NCAA eligibility guidelines, particularly as it relates to transfer eligibility, the former head women’s basketball coach should have taken a more active role in monitoring the activities of the staff members assigned to handle the matter. Syracuse University Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Infractions Appeals Committee Public Report March 6, 2015, Page Nos. 4 – 6.
The Committee found no basis to overturn the finding that the former head women’s basketball coach failed to adequately monitor his staff.
A penalty prescribed by COI, including determinations regarding the existence and weighing of any aggravating or mitigating factors, shall not be set aside on appeal except on a showing by the appealing party that the hearing panel abused its discretion. NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168.
As stated in the Alabama State case:
“…we conclude that an 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 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.” Alabama State University, Infractions Appeals Committee Public Report June 30, 2009, Page No. 23.
In this case, COI determined that former Bylaw 19.5.2 (2012-13 NCAA Division I Manual) afforded the parties with more lenient penalties. Therefore, COI prescribed penalties under the former Bylaw 19.5.2.
The former head women’s basketball coach failed to demonstrate that any of the factors required for a showing of an abuse of discretion existed in COI’s decision.
The Committee affirmed the finding of a violation and penalty.