The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or “Panel”) recently issued its findings and found that Baylor University (“Baylor” or “Institution”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. The case involved the football program at Baylor.Specifically, two assistant football coaches exceeded the limitations on evaluations and contacts of two prospective student-athletes in the spring of 2015 and another assistant football coach personally attended a contest in which a future opponent competed. The violations occurred because the coaches thought they had found “loopholes” that allowed them to count only evaluations of prospects they intended to watch, rather than those they actually watched, and to engage in brief, “fan-like” exchanges with the prospects. The Panel concluded the violations regarding excessive evaluations and contacts are Level II violations. When the third assistant football coach personally observed part of a football contest involving a future opponent of the Institution, he committed a Level III violation. This case was limited to those issues, and the Panel did not consider any other information.
The Committee concluded that Baylor committed the following violations:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 13.02.4, 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199.3, 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 (2014-15)
During the spring 2015 evaluation period, assistant coaches 1 and 2 conducted one impermissible evaluation of prospect 1 and two impermissible evaluations of prospect 2. Further, on two occasions during the spring 2015 evaluation period, assistant coaches 1 and 2 had impermissible contact with prospect 2. The Institution, coaches and NCAA enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that the impermissible evaluations occurred. The Institution and coaches did not agree that impermissible contacts occurred. The parties disagreed as to the level of the violations. The NCAA enforcement staff alleged that the violations were Level II, while the Institution and coaches believed them to be Level III violations. The Panel concluded that the violations occurred and are Level II violations.
The violations center on two assistant football coaches making impermissible evaluations of, and having impermissible contact with, prospective student-athletes. Assistant coaches 1 and 2 conducted three evaluations of prospect 1 and four evaluations of prospect 2 during the spring 2015 evaluation period. Because institutions are limited to two evaluations per prospect in the spring evaluation period, the assistant coaches violated Bylaw 13. Additionally, the two assistant coaches had contact with prospect 2 twice during the same time period. Because contacts during the spring, at competition sites and with high school juniors are prohibited, the assistant coaches further violated Bylaw 13.
Regarding evaluations, Bylaw 220.127.116.11 limits football institutional staff members to three prospect evaluations per year. Two of them may be used in the spring from April 15 through May 31. Bylaw 18.104.22.168 provides that an institutional coach attending an event in which multiple prospects participate uses an evaluation for all participants whom the coach observes engaging in practice or competition. Bylaw 13 also governs recruiting contacts. Bylaw 13.02.4 defines “contact” as a face-to-face encounter in which dialogue in excess of a greeting occurs. This definition also includes “prearranged” encounters (including those in which an institutional staff member positions himself in a location where contact is possible), encounters on the grounds of a prospect’s educational institution and encounters at competition sites, whether or not any conversation occurs. Bylaw 22.214.171.124 precludes any contact with prospects prior to the end of their junior year of high school, while Bylaws 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52.3 prohibits contacts with prospects prior to and at the site of competitions in which the prospects are participating.
Assistant coaches 1 and 2 exceeded the number of permissible prospect evaluations in the spring of 2015. Even though they logged the April 15 meet as an evaluation of another prospect, they also watched prospect 1 compete. Therefore, when combined with the evaluations they conducted of prospect 1 on May 21 and May 27, 2015, assistant coaches 1 and 2 exceeded the number of permissible evaluations, in violation of Bylaw 184.108.40.206. The assistant coaches’ conduct also violated Bylaw 220.127.116.11 when one or both of them observed prospect 2 compete in track meets on April 16 and May 1, 2015, and participate in spring football events on May 18 and May 26, 2015. The conduct violated the evaluation limit by two even though the coaches logged the April 16 track meet as an evaluation of a different prospect. All parties agreed that the excessive evaluations occurred.
On April 16 and May 1, 2015, assistant coaches 1 and 2 violated the contact bylaws in their interactions with prospect 2. When they parked near the long jump pit upon their arrival at the April 16 competition site, they positioned themselves where contact was possible. Their subsequent conversations with prospect 2, however brief, constituted contacts. Similarly, when the coaches returned to the meet later in the day and stood in the infield during prospect 2’s sprint events, they once again were in a position where contact was possible. Their conversations and interaction with student-athlete 2 before and following the sprint events constituted impermissible contact. Finally, when the coaches sought out student-athlete 2 at the May 1 meet and spoke to him, they once again engaged in impermissible contact.
At both meets, the assistant coaches positioned themselves in locations where contact with prospect 2 was possible, even likely. This is precisely a situation contemplated by the bylaw as “prearranged” and therefore a contact, regardless of the duration or substance of any conversation that may occur. Once positioned, the assistant coaches spoke with prospect 2 a number of different times throughout the April 16 meet and both before and after the May 1 meet. Their encounters with him were contacts pursuant to Bylaw 13.02.4. Because the two assistant coaches contacted prospect 2 outside of a permissible contact period, prior to July 1 following the completion of his junior year of high school and at competition sites when prospect 2 was competing, assistant coaches 1 and 2 violated Bylaws 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199.3.
The Panel was disappointed that the compliance officer told the assistant coaches they could attend high school track meets and simply turn away at certain times so as to not be charged with evaluating some of the competing prospects. As shown by the facts of this case, his statement was, at best, ill-advised. When coaches are at track meets, they watch the competitors. It is unrealistic to think they will not. Further, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for an institution to monitor when, or if, a coach attending a track meet looks down or turns away from a certain event so as to preserve evaluations of certain prospects for later times. The Panel reiterated that coaches attending high school track meets use an evaluation for every prospect they observe compete at the meets.
The Panel was further disappointed that the coaching staff at the Institution was more interested in finding “loopholes” to exploit than abiding by the rules regarding evaluations and contacts. The coaches’ interpretation that they only used evaluations at track meets for those prospects they intended to see, rather than those they actually observed, was not based in logic or any rule of the NCAA. In their response to the notice of allegations, the assistant coaches characterized their interactions with prospect 2 at the meets as “fan-like” exhortations that did not exceed greetings. In making such assertions, the assistant coaches ignored the obvious: they are not fans. They are subject to rules relating to evaluations and contacts that do not apply to spectators. The assistant coaches’ continual interactions, regardless of how brief, were contacts according to the plain language of Bylaw 13.02.4. The assistant coaches could have easily avoided these violations if their main focus had been on complying with the bylaws rather than finding ways around them.
The Institution asserted that, if the Panel concluded the assistant coaches engaged in impermissible contacts at the April 16 and May 1 track meets, the same events should not count as evaluations. The Institution cited Bylaw 188.8.131.52, which provides in part that an “evaluation is not counted for a particular prospective student-athlete if a contact is made with that same prospective student-athlete the same day.” The Institution is mistaken. In making the argument, the Institution ignored the language of Bylaw 184.108.40.206, which states that, before a contact supersedes an evaluation made the same day, the contact must be permissible under the bylaws. As these contacts were impermissible, the actions of the assistant coaches at the track meets constituted evaluations as well as contacts. Therefore, the assistant coaches’ conduct violated NCAA legislation related to both evaluations and contacts.
The parties disagreed on the level of the violations. The Institution and assistant coaches argued that they were Level III violations, while the enforcement staff asserted that they were Level II violations. The Panel concluded the violations were Level II. Impermissible contacts are a serious matter to the membership and have been recognized as such by this committee. See, University of Colorado (2002) (concluding that a coach who, in an attempt to “be seen” by prospects, visited their high schools during non-contact periods and positioned himself in areas where the prospects were likely to be, engaged in contacts under the bylaw definition even though he told the prospects he could not talk to them. The face-to-face encounters were extremely advantageous to the institution); University of Florida (2015) (reiterating that, as concluded in Colorado, impermissible contacts confer advantages upon those who engage in them to the detriment of institutions abiding by the rules. Such contacts help build relationships that are critical to recruiting, thus the single impermissible contact in the case was a Level II violation).
Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.2, the Panel concluded that the violations in this case were Level II because they provided, or were intended to provide, more than a minimal recruiting or competitive advantage. Like the offending coaches in Colorado and Florida, assistant coaches 1 and 2 were trying to demonstrate their high regard for prospect 2 and establish a relationship with him. When its coaches had contact with prospect 2, engaged him in-person and spoke to him, all at times when NCAA rules precluded the assistant coaches from doing so, this Institution gained more than a minimal advantage over institutions that were in compliance with NCAA recruiting legislation. Both prospects eventually committed to attend the Institution.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 11.6.1 (2015-16) (Level III Violations)
The parties agree that, on September 19, 2015, assistant coach 3 attended and personally observed part of a game in which a future opponent of the Institution participated. As a result, the Institution engaged in prohibited off-campus scouting.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4
Aggravating Factors for the Institution
19.9.3-(b): The institution has a history of Level I, Level II or major violations.
Mitigating Factors for the Institution
19.9.4-(b): Prompt acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures and/or penalties;
19.9.4-(c): Affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter; and
19.9.4-(d): Established history of self-reporting Level III or secondary violations.
The Institution proposed that it was entitled to mitigating factor 19.9.4-(f), exemplary cooperation. The Institution met its obligation under the bylaws to fully cooperate in the investigation, but did not engage in a level of cooperation in excess of legislated expectations.
Aggravating Factors for Assistant Coach 1
Mitigating Factors for Assistant Coach 1
Assistant coach 1 proposed that he was entitled to mitigating factor Bylaw 19.9.4-(b), prompt acknowledgement of the violation, similar to assistant coach 2. However, assistant coach 2 admitted watching prospect 2 run immediately upon being asked. In contrast, assistant coach 1 denied numerous times during his first interview that he watched prospects 1 and 2 run in any events. He claimed that he actively avoided watching them compete and that he turned his back to the track while they competed, which was not true. He admitted only to seeing them at the meets. He also claimed no recall of whether he observed prospect 2 compete in the long jump on April 16, 2015. He corrected his inaccurate statements by the end of the lengthy interview, but he was not “prompt” in his acknowledgment of the violation. However, because he eventually was fully forthcoming in the interview, the Panel pursuant to Bylaw 220.127.116.11 determined that the Institution’s disciplinary actions toward him were sufficient and does not prescribe a show-cause order for his violation.
Aggravating Factors for Assistant Coach 2
Mitigating Factors for Assistant Coach 2
19.9.4-(b): Prompt acknowledgement of the violation and acceptance of responsibility.
As a result of the foregoing, the Committee penalized Baylor as follows:
1. Public reprimand and censure.
2. The entire football coaching staff will cease recruiting at any track and field meets.
3. The entire football coaching staff ceased recruiting prospect 2 for eight weeks
4. The Institution shall pay a financial penalty of $5,000.00.
5. Assistant coaches 1 and 2 each served a one-game suspension on September 12, 2015. They were not permitted to participate in game-day activities or be at the team hotel during the day of the game and were not permitted to be present at McLane Stadium before, during or after the contest. Additionally, assistant coach 3 was suspended from the first half of the Institution’s contest on November 14, 2015.
6. Assistant coaches 1 and 2 were prohibited from off-campus recruiting for 12 weeks during the fall 2015 evaluation period.