The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions (“COI” or “Committee” or “panel”) is an independent administrative body of the NCAA comprised of individuals from the Division I membership and the public. COI decides infractions cases involving member institutions and their staffs. This case involves Creighton University (“CU” or “Creighton” or “Institution”). The conduct at issue in this case was related to a broader scheme that involved money and influence at the intersection of collegiate and professional basketball. The scheme resulted in the arrest and prosecution of multiple individuals—including college basketball coaches—on conspiracy and bribery charges and led to significant reforms to strengthen the NCAA Collegiate Model. This case involved the conduct of a former assistant men’s basketball coach at Creighton whose association and actions with the individuals in the scheme resulted in NCAA violations. The case also involved missteps by Creighton’s director of athletics after he became aware of his assistant coach’s conduct.
The Committee concluded CU committed the following violations of NCAA rules:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual 10.01.1 and 10.1 (2016- 17)
The assistant coach attended a meeting with the agent associate and representatives of the agent associate’s new business management company where he accepted money in the context of a discussion regarding the company’s business plan. Specifically, representatives from the management company discussed Creighton men’s basketball players as potential clients as well as future payments to the assistant coach. Creighton agreed that the conduct established a Level I violation. The assistant coach disputed the violation. The panel concluded that an unethical conduct violation occurred, and the violation is Level I for both Creighton and the assistant coach.
On July 28, 2017, the assistant coach accepted money at a meeting with the agent associate and his management company. At the meeting, representatives discussed Creighton men’s basketball players who had professional potential and logistics around future payments to the assistant coach. At the conclusion of the meeting, the assistant coach accepted $6,000 from a representative of the management company. The assistant coach’s conduct violated NCAA Bylaw 10.
NCAA Bylaw 10 governs ethical conduct in collegiate athletics, with NCAA Bylaw 10.01.1 generally requiring student-athletes and athletics staff to act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times. NCAA Bylaw 10.1 identifies several categories of unethical conduct, including the receipt of benefits by an institutional staff member for facilitating or arranging a meeting between a student-athlete and an agent, financial advisor, or representative of an agent or financial advisor.
The assistant coach went to Las Vegas to recruit on behalf of Creighton. While there, he took a meeting with the agent associate and representatives of the agent associate’s management company. He then accepted $6,000 cash from those individuals. His actions during the meeting violated NCAA standards of conduct.
Prior to the meeting, the agent associate informed the assistant coach that he would be paid for attending the meeting. The assistant coach claimed that he believed he was being compensated for his time. He also claimed the purpose of the meeting was to vouch for the agent associate to his business associates and investors. Regardless of his initial belief, the management company had a different understanding of the assistant coach’s role in the meeting and in the broader business plan. As evident by the agent associate’s representations and conversations amongst those involved in the broader scheme, the management company viewed the assistant coach as an investment and an individual who could steer clients to the services of the management company.
The substance of the meeting reflected the management company’s intentions. The agent associate and a representative from the management company began discussing current Creighton players who had professional potential, with the representative commenting that Creighton produced a “steady” flow of talent. Perhaps more troubling was the agent associate’s comment that the only thing left to figure out was how to get future payments to the assistant coach. Thereafter, the representative handed the assistant coach $6,000 in an envelope and indicated that he would be coming to Omaha, just not on a monthly basis. The assistant coach took the envelope and placed it in his pocket. Although the assistant coach claimed that he gave the money to the agent associate after the meeting, there is no information in the record that either proves or disproves this claim. To the contrary, video surveillance clearly shows the assistant coach accepting money from the representative and placing it in his pocket. Other record information also clearly demonstrates that all other attendees believed that the money was the first in a series of payments that established a business relationship with the assistant coach. Thus, the panel concluded that in accepting the $6,000, the assistant coach entered into an agreement with the management company to assist them in securing Creighton men’s basketball student-athletes as future clients.
On July 28, 2017, the assistant coach’s personal and professional lives intersected. The assistant coach permitted his loyalty to his friend to place himself in a compromising position. The assistant coach ignored repeated red flags and demonstrated a recurring lack of judgment that resulted in his failure to meet NCAA standards of conduct. His engagement, although limited, ran afoul of the honesty, integrity and ethical standards required of institutional staff members. Regardless of his intentions, the assistant coach understood that his position of authority—a well-respected Division I coach—was significant to establishing credibility for the agent associate and his management company. The assistant coach failed to heed caution and his conduct violated NCAA Bylaws 10.01.1 and 10.1. The panel concludes that the violation is Level I for the assistant coach and Creighton.
Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.1, the violation is Level I because the conduct seriously undermined or threatened the integrity of the Collegiate Model and involved an ethical conduct violation. Creighton agreed that the conduct established an ethical conduct violation and was Level I. Relevantly, the COI has also concluded that similar conduct establishes Level I violations for involved individuals and their institutions. See University of Southern California (USC) (2021); University of South Carolina (2021); University of Alabama (2020); and Oklahoma State University (2020). In these cases, the COI specifically concluded that institutional staff members who accepted money from individuals affiliated with the agent associate, his business management company or other professional services organizations committed Level I violations for the actor and the institution. Here, Creighton agreed and accepted responsibility for the Level I violation committed by its employee. Accordingly, and consistent with NCAA Bylaw 19.1.1, the violation is Level I for both the assistant coach and Creighton.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Constitution 2.8.1 (2018-19); NCAA Division I Bylaws 19.2.2 and 19.2.3- (a) and 19.2.3-(c) (2018-19)
Creighton’s director of athletics failed to act in accordance with the requirements of NCAA legislation with respect to reporting potential violations. The NCAA enforcement staff alleged that the director of athletics’ failure to report established a Level I violation. Creighton and the director of athletics disputed that a violation occurred. In the alternative, they argued that any violation should be attributed to Creighton only. The panel concluded that a violation occurred, that it applies to both the director of athletics and Creighton, and that the violation is Level II.
The director of athletics assumed the responsibility to investigate Creighton’s investigation into potential violations involving the assistant coach and his relationship with the agent associate. The director of athletics undertook this responsibility by himself, without informing or seeking assistance from other Creighton officials, including the athletics compliance office. As part of his investigation, the director of athletics learned about the July 2017 meeting in Las Vegas. Yet without consulting with any other Creighton officials, he determined that no violations occurred. His determination was incorrect. In addition, he kept what he had learned to himself until information related to the meeting came to light in the government’s superseding indictment. The director of athletics assumed the responsibility to investigate the potential violations, but his investigation was inadequate, and in the process he failed to meet his obligations and affirmative responsibilities under NCAA Constitution 2 and NCAA Bylaw 19.
NCAA Constitution 2.8.1 requires all institutions to monitor their programs to ensure compliance and to identify and report to the Association any instances of noncompliance. Further, Bylaw 19.2.2 places an affirmative obligation on each institution to report all instances of noncompliance in a timely manner. Expanding upon that obligation, Bylaw 19.2.3 requires all institutional staff members to cooperate fully with the NCAA and further the objectives of the Association and its infractions program. Among others, these obligations include affirmatively reporting issues of noncompliance in a timely manner; assisting in developing full information to determine whether a possible violation has occurred and the details thereof; and making a full and complete disclosure of relevant information, including the timely production of materials or information requested, and in the format requested. See NCAA Bylaws 19.2.3-(a) and (c), respectively.
The director of athletics’ personal relationship with the assistant coach, as well as the trust he placed in the assistant coach, influenced his decision-making. In doing so, he ignored a series of events that should have prompted him to dig deeper and notify others. The government’s public arrests—which included the agent associate—on September 26, 2017, shook college athletics. Shortly thereafter, the Board of Directors instructed all institutions to review their men’s basketball programs. Stated simply, campus leaders across the NCAA were on high alert.
The director of athletics knew of the agent associate based on his involvement in Creighton’s recruitment of the high-profile prospect. He also knew about the assistant coach’s personal relationship with him but, based on Creighton’s fall 2017 review, did not believe there was “anything to worry about.” About a year later in early October 2018, the prospect’s father publicly testified that he had been promised money and a job if his son signed with Creighton. The trials prompted the NCAA to again instruct institutions to monitor their men’s basketball programs.
On October 31, 2018, the director of athletics learned through his individual inquiry that the assistant coach attended a meeting in Las Vegas with the agent associate and others involved in a scheme where the assistant coach was presented with and took possession of money. Again, the director of athletics determined that nothing was contrary to NCAA rules. He kept that information to himself until the facts related to the Las Vegas meeting appeared in the March 7, 2019, superseding indictment. Given the environment at the time, it was unreasonable for the director of athletics not to share what he had learned about the assistant coach with other Creighton officials, including the compliance director, to determine whether NCAA violations may have occurred. Up until that point, the compliance director and other Creighton officials had been intimately involved in the institution’s efforts to review and monitor its basketball program. The panel was troubled by the shift from joint review to the director of athletics’ unilateral, insulated review and decision-making.
To be sure, institutional leaders, athletics administrators, coaches and staff members can be wrong. People make mistakes. But the panel determined that the director of athletics’ decision-making was not reasonable under the circumstances at the time, which included the heightened attention to issues in Division I college basketball, the director of athletics’ knowledge of the assistant coach’s personal relationship and engagement with the agent associate, and the director of athletics’ affirmative obligations under the NCAA bylaws. After the public arrests and the Division I Board’s directive to institutions to monitor their basketball programs, the director of athletics told his compliance director and Creighton’s general counsel that college basketball programs “should be worried” based on dealings with third-parties. In that way, the director of athletics failed heed his own concern when he learned that his basketball coach met with third parties. He should have reported what he learned at the time he learned it.
The obligation to report potentially violative behavior has been a longstanding cornerstone of the membership’s infractions process. This obligation became even more relevant due to the August 2018 enhancements to the legislated responsibility to cooperate that were part of broader reforms stemming from the Commission on College Basketball recommendations. These enhancements placed more explicit and express requirements on institutional staff members to further the objectives of the membership’s infractions program. The director of athletics’ conduct failed to meet his and Creighton’s obligations under NCAA Constitution 2.8.1 and NCAA Bylaws 19.2.2, 19.2.3-(a) and 19.2.3-(c).
The NCAA enforcement staff alleged the conduct as Level I, but the panel concluded that the violation is Level II. The panel viewed the director of athletics’ mistake in the context of the other proactive efforts where he collaborated with Creighton’s general counsel and the compliance director. For approximately one year, the group worked together to ensure compliance within the men’s basketball program. These efforts demonstrated effective and admirable leadership. However, in October 2018, the director of athletics departed from this approach and acted unilaterally. The panel concluded that the violation is Level II for the director of athletics and Creighton.
Previously, the COI has concluded that Level II violations occur when involved individuals fail to timely meet obligations related to developing potential infractions-related information. See Sacramento State University (2018) (concluding that a volunteer coach’s failure to cooperate fully constituted Level II violations of Bylaw 10 and 19); University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC) (2017) (concluding that a curriculum secretary committed Level II violations of Bylaws 10 and 19 when she refused to participate in an investigation for nearly three years but eventually responded to allegations, interviewed and participated in the hearing). Thus, pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 19.1.2, the panel concluded that the violation is Level II.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1, 10.1-(c), 19.2.3-(b) and 19.2.3-(c) (2018-19)
The assistant coach committed unethical conduct during Creighton’s and the NCAA enforcement staff’s investigation when he repeatedly denied that he accepted money in conjunction with the July 2017 meeting. First, in fall 2018, the assistant coach provided false and misleading information on an institutional questionnaire with regard to whether he ever accepted anything of value from an agent, financial advisor or apparel representative. Similarly, he provided false and misleading information during his May 29, 2019, interview with the NCAA enforcement staff when he denied that he accepted anything of value. Creighton and the assistant coach contested the violations. The panel concluded that violations occurred, and they are Level I.
On two occasions, the assistant coach failed to meet the membership’s expectations for conduct during an investigation. First, he provided false and misleading information on an institutional questionnaire. Later, he denied accepting money and entering into an agreement with the management company in an interview with the enforcement staff. Both are refuted by video surveillance. The panel concluded that the assistant coach’s actions violated NCAA Bylaw 10 and 19 and establish Level I violations for the assistant coach and Creighton.
As mentioned, NCAA Bylaw 10 establishes ethical conduct standards and NCAA Bylaw 10.01.1 requires all staff members act with honesty and sportsmanship. Among other examples, NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(c) states that the provision of false or misleading information constitutes unethical conduct. Similarly, NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3 obligates current and former institutional staff members to cooperate with the objectives of the Association and its infractions program. Full cooperation includes the timely participation in interviews and complete and truthful responses. See NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3-(b). Likewise, individuals are required to make a full and complete disclosure of relevant information. See NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3-(c). In response to the NCAA leadership’s instruction that all institutions monitor their men’s basketball programs, Creighton’s compliance director circulated a questionnaire to the men’s basketball coaches and staff. The questionnaire included two specific questions related to accepting anything of value from individuals who were involved in the ongoing SDNY-investigation and trials, Question Nos. 9 and 12, respectively.
After consulting with outside criminal defense counsel, the assistant coach answered “no” to both questions. Later, in his May 29, 2019, interview with the enforcement staff, the assistant coach continued to assert that he did not accept any money in conjunction with the meeting. The assistant coach stated that he never “accepted” any of the money because it was never intended for him. He also asserted that he never entered into an agreement to steer players to the management company.
The panel disagreed and concluded that the assistant coach provided false and misleading information in both circumstances. The assistant coach knew the agent associate was an aspiring agent and starting a management company, and he knew the individuals in the room were associated with agency or professional representation and management. Further, video surveillance shows the assistant coach being handed an envelope containing $6,000, taking the envelope and placing the envelope in his pocket. This all occurred in the context of other meeting attendees discussing Creighton players with professional potential, logistics related to future payments to the assistant coach and a representative of the management company’s intent to come to Omaha on a regular basis. As described above, the payment solidified the business relationship.
When completing the institution’s questionnaire, which included a NCAA Bylaw 10.1 advisement, and later denying all involvement with the agent associate and his management company in his interview with the enforcement staff, the assistant coach knowingly provided false and misleading information as prohibited by NCAA Bylaw 10.1. The conduct also fell short of the assistant coach’s responsibility to cooperate expressly outlined in NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3-(b) and (c).
The panel recognized that the assistant coach acted on the advice of counsel. That is a legitimate consideration. However, an individual’s decision made in the context of an outside legal proceeding does not relieve him from his obligations under NCAA bylaws. When an individual chooses to prioritize their interests in outside proceedings, there can still be consequences under NCAA legislation. See University of Connecticut (2019) (stating that “[t]here is no automatic exception for reliance on the advice counsel” and concluding that the former head men’s basketball coach violated NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3 when he refused to participate in a second interview on the advice of counsel due to his involvement in separate legal proceedings); University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (2000) (concluding an academic counsel violated NCAA Bylaw 19.01.3—precursor to NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3—when he refused to participate in an interview on the advice of counsel due to an ongoing federal investigation). Because he was actively employed at Creighton at the time of the conduct, the violations apply to both the assistant coach and Creighton.
Although each case is unique, the panel considered the COI’s recent decision in USC when evaluating the specific facts and circumstances in this case. In assessing the assistant coach’s conduct, USC was instructive in both its similarities and differences. In this respect, the assistant coach’s conduct is distinguishable from conduct of the associate head coach in USC. In that case, the COI did not conclude that the associate head coach provided false and misleading information. In USC, the associate head coach admitted that he received payments in exchange for directing basketball players from USC to retain the services of certain financial advisors and business managers.15 He further acknowledged that his conduct could be viewed as developing a tacit understanding of an agreement. Although the associate head coach stated that the amount of money he actually received was different than the amount referenced in his plea agreement, the COI found this variance immaterial and not rising to the level of failure to cooperate or unethical conduct.
Here, however, when completing the questionnaire and when interviewed by the enforcement staff, the assistant coach did not acknowledge that his conduct ran afoul of core principles and standards of conduct. As such, the assistant coach’s failure to acknowledge such conduct establishes further violations.
Pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 19.1.1, the violations are Level I because they seriously undermine and threaten the integrity of the collegiate model. See NCAA Bylaw 19.1.1-(d) (identifying individual unethical or dishonest conduct as an example of Level I behaviors). The COI regularly concludes that Level I violations occur when individuals provide false or misleading information. See Georgia Institute of Technology (2019) (concluding that the assistant coach committed Level I violations when he lied in an interview and denied involvement in the underlying violations and attempted to persuade a student-athlete to lie); University of the Pacific (2017) (concluding that Level I violations occurred when a head coach and assistant coach were untruthful in their interviews). The assistant coach’s actions in filling out the questionnaire and his later denials during his interview were false and misleading. As such, Level I violations occurred.
Violations Not Demonstrated
As part of the allegations, the NCAA enforcement staff alleged that the underlying conduct established a NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d) violation. Further, the enforcement staff alleged that the assistant coach committed additional unethical conduct when he (1) filled out Creighton’s telephone and electronic device disclosure statement and (2) delayed his interview with the enforcement staff. The panel concludes that these violations were not demonstrated.
With respect to the application of NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d), the record does not demonstrate that the assistant coach took any further action after the July 28, 2017, meeting where he accepted money from the business management company. As an example of unethical conduct, Bylaw 10.1-(d) expressly As part of the allegations, the NCAA enforcement staff alleged that the underlying conduct established a NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d) violation. Further, the enforcement staff alleged that the assistant coach committed additional unethical conduct when he (1) filled out Creighton’s telephone and electronic device disclosure statement and (2) delayed his interview with the enforcement staff. The panel concluded that these violations were not demonstrated.
With respect to the application of NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d), the record does not demonstrate that the assistant coach took any further action after the July 28, 2017, meeting where he accepted money from the business management company. As an example of unethical conduct, NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d) expressly identifies an institutional staff member accepting money from agents or financial advisors in exchange for arranging or agreeing to arrange meetings between agents/advisors or their representatives and student-athletes. Past cases have stated that an actual meeting is not a requirement in order for a NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d) violation to occur.
Unlike other SDNY cases, the assistant coach took little to no action during and following the July meeting. During the meeting, the assistant coach remained silent during the meeting. He never discussed Creighton prospects or players, and after the meeting he took no further action with respect to the management company. In this respect, this behavior is less egregious than that of the associate head coach in USC, where the associate head coach openly discussed USC prospects and players, continued to have contact regarding potential clients with the agent associate, and attended a second meeting where he continued to talk about his participation in the scheme and was informed about the management company’s meetings with players affiliated with the USC program.
At the same time, the panel concluded that his acceptance of money in the context of the discussion and actions by the representatives of the management company resulted in the assistant coach entering into a business relationship with the management company. That conduct supports a general NCAA Bylaw 10.1 violation. However, the panel determined that the absence of any further representations or actions by the assistant coach aimed at furthering the management company’s intent to meet with student-athletes does not demonstrate a NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d) violation.
With regard to information the assistant coach provided during investigation, the panel does not conclude that (1) the assistant coach provided false and misleading information on Creighton’s telephone and electronic device disclosure statement or (2) that the assistant coach failed to cooperate due to a minimal delay in scheduling an interview with the enforcement staff.
As explained above, NCAA Bylaws 10.1 and 19.2.3 require current and former institutional staff members to provide full, complete, truthful and timely responses in developing information related to potential violations. NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3 also requires individuals to disclose and provide access to all electronic devices used for business purposes.
To be clear, by his own acknowledgement, the assistant coach did not fill out Creighton’s telephone and electronic device disclosure statement accurately. Specifically, on the form he identified that he did not use his personal cell phone for recruiting purposes. Later, in his interview with the enforcement staff, he acknowledged that because he maintained that number for a long time, there may have been circumstances where he engaged in recruiting conversations related to the high- profile prospect. The assistant coach, the prospect, the prospect’s family and the agent associate (who was a friend of the prospect’s family and heavily involved in the prospect’s recruitment) were all from the same hometown and had existing relationships that predated the assistant coach’s recruitment of the prospect. As such, the assistant coach was unable to expressly identify if any of his personal conversations on his personal phone with these individuals may have also involved recruiting communication.
Although questions remain unanswered, the panel was unable to conclude that the uncertainty rises to unethical conduct, or that the assistant coach failed to meet his responsibility to cooperate.
The NCAA enforcement staff also alleged that the assistant coach failed to timely participate in an interview, which prompted the enforcement staff to file a petition for immediate penalties. The panel does not determine that a violation occurred. NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3 requires current and former institutional staff members’ timely participation in interviews. The bylaw does not define timely.
The NCAA enforcement staff originally presented this allegation in a petition for immediate penalties. At the time the COI received the petition, not all of the potential interview dates discussed by the parties had passed. Shortly after submission, the parties reached agreement on a date. As such, the COI closed the matter.
The panel recognized that challenges can arise when criminal proceedings and infractions proceedings converge. Part of the short delay in scheduling an interview appears to have resulted from the assistant coach following the advice of his criminal defense attorneys because his conduct was identified as potential criminal behavior, but he had not been charged. As the COI has stated in previous cases, the COI recognizes those considerations, but they do not relieve individuals from their obligations set by the NCAA membership. See Connecticut and Minnesota. Once the assistant coach’s infractions attorney took a more active role, the assistant coach scheduled his interview with the enforcement staff. It should not have taken a petition for immediate penalties to trigger that action. However, given the relatively short window of delay involved in this case, the panel declines to conclude that a NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3-(b) violation occurred. Previously, COI has stated that untimely participation does not cure an earlier decision not to participate. See UNC. The panel reiterated the importance of timely participation and notes that future similar facts under different circumstances could result in significant violations and penalties either through the petition for immediate penalties process or in the resolution of a case on the merits.
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): A history of Level I, Level II or major violations
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation
or related wrongful conduct.
Mitigating Factors for the Institution
19.9.4-(c): Affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter;
19.9.4-(d): An established history of self-reporting Level III or secondary violations; and
19.9.4-(h): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations committed by the institution.
Aggravating Factors for the Director of Athletics
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation
or related wrongful conduct.
Mitigating Factors for the Director of Athletics
19.9.4-(h): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations committed by the institution.
Aggravating Factors for the Assistant Head Coach
19.9.3-(a): Multiple Level I violations by the involved individual;
19.9.3-(e): Unethical conduct, compromising the integrity of an investigation, failing to cooperate during an investigation or refusing to provide all relevant or requested information;
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or related wrongful conduct;
19.9.3-(l): Conduct intended to generate pecuniary gain for the involved individual; and
19.9.3-(m): Intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution and bylaws.
Mitigating Factors for the Assistant Head Coach
19.9.4-(h): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations by the head track coach.
19.9.4-(i): Other factors warranting a lower penalty range.
The Committee penalized CU as follows: