The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or “Panel” or “COI”) recently issued its findings and found that Georgia Institute of Technology (“Georgia Tech” or “Institution”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. This case centered on inducement and benefit violations involving the men’s basketball staff and two different boosters in the Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball program. The conduct giving rise to the violations fell into two areas: (1) a former assistant coach orchestrating inducements and benefits from a booster during a highly touted prospect’s official visit; and (2) another booster’s involvement with two Georgia Tech men’s basketball student-athletes and a potential transfer student-athlete after the booster was welcomed into the program by the head men’s basketball coach. The case also involved the assistant coach’s unethical conduct violation for not being truthful and attempting to influence a student-athlete to change his story during the investigation.
The Committee found Georgia Tech committed the following violations of NCAA legislation:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 12.11.1, 18.104.22.168, 13.2.1, 22.214.171.124-(e), 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52, 16.8.1, 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11 (2016-17)
In early November 2016, the assistant coach orchestrated interaction between a highly touted prospect, his host and a notable Georgia Tech booster on the prospect’s official visit that resulted in a series of violations. Those violations included a trip to the booster’s home; a trip to a strip club; provision of cash and a meal; and the booster sending impermissible text messages. Georgia Tech agreed that the violations occurred and that they were Level I. The assistant coach agreed that the violations occurred but asserted they were Level III. The panel concluded that the violations are Level I.
From November 4 through 6, 2016, one of the top men’s basketball prospects in the country took an official paid visit to Georgia Tech and, as a result of the assistant basketball coach directly involving a notable booster, serious recruiting inducement and extra benefit violations occurred. By involving the booster (a notable former Georgia Tech men’s student-athlete) the assistant coach set in motion a series of events that included: visiting the booster’s home; attending a strip club without paying a cover charge; the booster providing the prospect and his host with cash to use at the strip club; and receiving a free meal at a lounge the group visited after the strip club. The booster also sent impermissible text messages to the prospect the following day. As a result of the violations, Georgia Tech permitted the host to play while ineligible. The conduct resulted in Level I violations of Bylaws 12, 13 and 16.
Bylaw 13 generally outlines recruiting conduct. Bylaw 18.104.22.168 limits recruiting activity to authorized institutional staff members and specifically prohibits boosters from recruiting. Taken together, Bylaws 13.2.1 and 22.214.171.124-(e) prohibit institutional staff members and boosters from providing inducements, including cash, to prospects that are not generally available. Bylaws 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 prohibit boosters from providing entertainment and cash to prospects on official visits. Similar restrictions apply to current student-athletes. For example, Bylaws 16.8.1, 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11 place restrictions on providing extra benefits to student-athletes. Bylaw 12.11.1 obligates institutions to withhold ineligible student-athletes from competition.
Despite knowing that boosters could not be involved in recruiting, the assistant coach elevated the perceived importance of the highly touted prospect’s official visit by intentionally contacting a booster to engage in a series of impermissible activities on the prospect’s official visit. The booster was a former successful Georgia Tech men’s basketball player and, at the time, was on the roster of the local NBA team. Further, the assistant coach contacted the booster with the intent of using the booster’s status to gain inconspicuous access to the strip club (which he also knew was impermissible). The evening began at the booster’s home, carried on with adult entertainment at a local strip club and concluded at a lounge where the prospect and his host ate for free. It also involved the booster providing a total of $600 to the prospect and host to use at the strip club and additional recruiting contact between the booster and prospect via text message the following day. When the assistant coach involved the booster in recruiting activities, violations of Bylaws 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 occurred. Similarly, when the assistant coach set in motion events that led to the booster’s involvement in recruiting, inducements and extra benefits, violations of Bylaws 13.2.1, 188.8.131.52-(e), 16.8.1, 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11 occurred. Finally, the host became ineligible as a result of the extra benefits he received. When Georgia Tech permitted him to play while ineligible, the institution failed to fulfil its obligation to withhold an ineligible student-athlete from competition under Bylaw 12.11.1.
Adult entertainment has no place in the NCAA Collegiate Model. It is particularly abhorrent in the recruiting process where coaches and others in a position of trust are responsible for the well-being of high school students visiting their campus. The COI has previously concluded that such activity is inexcusable and results in Level I violations. See University of Louisville (2017) (concluding that Level I violations occurred when a director of operations arranged striptease acts and prostitution for prospects, student-athletes and others in a university dormitory); see also University of Miami (2013) (concluding, under the former infractions structure, that major violations occurred when a booster provided impermissible benefits to student-athletes when he purchased their admission, entertainment and beverages at strip clubs); and University of Alabama (2002) (concluding, under the former infractions structure, that major violations occurred when prospects on official visits and their student hosts were entertained by strippers on campus). Although more limited than Louisville, the nature of the conduct still results in Level I violations. Therefore, pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.1-(f) and (g), the Panel concluded the violations are Level I.
Violations of NCAA Bylaw 10.01.1, 10.1, 10.1-(c) and 19.2.3 (2017-18)
The assistant coach failed to meet standards of ethical conduct and his responsibility to cooperate when the NCAA enforcement staff investigated the events surrounding the prospect’s official visit. The assistant coach provided false and misleading information on two occasions and attempted to influence the host to also provide false and misleading information. The assistant coach agreed that he was not truthful in his first interview while maintaining that he never attempted to influence the host to change his story. The assistant coach believed his conduct could be classified as Level III. The Panel concluded that the violations are Level I.
The assistant coach lied in his interviews with the NCAA enforcement staff. He also tried to get the host to lie as part of a cover up. This conduct was clearly contrary to the obligations and responsibilities of institutional employees. The assistant coach’s behavior resulted in Level I violations of Bylaws 10 and 19.
Bylaw 10 establishes ethical conduct standards. Bylaw 10.01.1 requires all staff members to act with honesty and sportsmanship. Bylaw 10.1 outlines specific behavior that is considered unethical conduct, identifying knowingly furnishing false and mislead information or influencing others to do so as an example under Bylaw 10.1-(c). Bylaw 19.2.3 obligates all current and former institutional employees to cooperate with the objectives of the Association and its infractions program. This includes making full and complete disclosures of all relevant information when requested by the enforcement staff.
On November 20, 2017, the NCAA enforcement staff interviewed the assistant coach about the prospect’s official visit. He denied any involvement in the events that transpired. Later, the assistant coach contacted the enforcement staff and requested the opportunity to sit for a second interview. In the second interview, he admitted that he had lied. However, he also denied attempting to persuade the host to modify what he reported to the enforcement staff. The assistant coach suggested that the host lied in his interview. The facts and statements made by both the host and the associate athletics director, however, do not support the assistant coach’s version of events.
The NCAA enforcement staff interviewed the host first. Concerned about what he reported, he attempted to contact the assistant coach but was unable to do so. The host immediately went to the associate athletics director and expressed sincere concern for the assistant coach. Shortly thereafter, the NCAA enforcement staff interviewed the assistant coach. Within three minutes of the completion of the assistant coach’s interview, the host contacted the associate athletics director and reported that the assistant coach was attempting to contact him, later identifying that it was via an application designed to delete communications after they are read. Later the associate athletics director removed the host from practice after the host reported the assistant coach confronted him and told him to contact the chief compliance officer and tell her that he needed to change his story.
It is simply not credible that the host lied in his interview. The timeline of events and credible statements made by the host and associate athletics director support that after learning the subject matter of the enforcement staff’s inquiry, the assistant coach attempted to contact the host and persuade him to tell a fabricated story—first through an application and then in-person at practice. The associate athletics director reported that the host was distressed and genuinely concerned about what his actions could mean for the assistant coach. Further, the host provided information against his interest, describing his personal receipt of extra benefits and personal involvement in the violations that occurred. The assistant coach admitted he lied in his first interview and the panel concludes that he then attempted to persuade the host to change his story and lie. When the assistant coach denied these attempts in his second interview, he further provided false and misleading information. The assistant coach’s actions violated Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1, 10.1-(c) and failed to meet the responsibility of staff members under Bylaw 19.2.3.
The COI has consistently concluded that individuals who lie, attempt to influence others to lie and/or fail to meet their responsibility to cooperate commit Level I violations. See University of the Pacific (2017) (concluding that Level I violations occurred when a head coach and assistant coach were untruthful in their interviews and the head coach attempted to influence others to provide false and misleading information) and University of Mississippi (2016) (concluding that Level I violations occurred when two former women’s basketball staff members denied their involvement in academic misconduct violations, personally deleted or instructed a student-athlete to delete relevant information and told the student-athlete to tell a false story). The assistant coach failed to understand the gravity of the situation. By lying during the investigation and attempting to influence a student-athlete to lie, he made his involvement in the official visit violations much worse. Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.1-(c) and (d), the panel concludes the violations are Level I.
Violations of NCAA Bylaws 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199.1, 13.2.1 and 188.8.131.52-(b) (2016-17), 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168-(d) (2016-17 and 2017-18)
The head coach granted his friend—who became an institutional booster—unique access to his basketball program and, using that access, the booster provided two Georgia Tech student-athletes and a potential transfer student-athlete with over $2,400 in extra benefits and inducements. The booster also engaged in impermissible recruiting activity. The NCAA enforcement staff alleged the conduct as Level II violations. Georgia Tech agreed that violations occurred but disputed the level. The Panel concluded that Level II violations occurred.
From fall 2016 through early fall 2017, the booster provided impermissible benefits and inducements to two Georgia Tech men’s basketball student-athletes and a student-athlete at the head coach’s previous institution who was considering transferring to Georgia Tech. Through unique and unparalleled access provided to him by the head coach, the booster fostered personal relationships with men’s basketball student-athletes and advanced those relationships by providing or arranging for cost-free shoes, clothing, meals, travel and lodging totaling $2,424. The booster also overextended his personal relationship with the transfer student-athlete at the head coach’s previous institution by regularly attempting to recruit him to Georgia Tech. The booster’s activity resulted in violations of Bylaws 13 and 16 for Georgia Tech. Those violations are Level II.
Among other things, Bylaws 13 and 16 prohibit boosters from recruiting and providing inducements and extra benefits. As it relates to recruiting activity, at the time of the conduct, Bylaw 22.214.171.124 prohibits institutional staff and boosters from contacting student-athletes at another institution until expressly granted permission by the student-athlete’s current institution. After receiving permission, all other recruiting restrictions apply. Bylaw 126.96.36.199 only permits authorized institutional personnel to engage in recruiting activity and Bylaw 188.8.131.52.1 expressly prohibits boosters from engaging in telephonic communication with student-athletes. Regarding inducements, Bylaw 13.2.1 prohibits boosters from providing inducements and specifically prohibits the provision of clothing or equipment under Bylaw 184.108.40.206-(b). As it relates to current student-athletes, Bylaws 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124-(d) prohibit boosters from providing extra benefits and, specifically, providing transportation.
The head coach asserted that he originally opened the doors of his former program to the booster (although, not a booster at that time) in what he viewed as a charitable gesture based on the booster’s professed troublesome circumstances. The head coach provided the same type of treatment at Georgia Tech. The booster used his access to develop friendships with men’s basketball student-athletes and advanced those friendships by providing them with and arranging for impermissible gifts. The booster triggered Georgia Tech booster status when, during a roughly 10-day visit, he took two Georgia Tech student-athletes out for a free meal at a local Atlanta Steakhouse. This meal, as well as the shoes, clothing, and cost-free trip to the booster’s home, resulted in $1,423 in extra benefits expressly prohibited by Bylaws 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206-(d). Standing alone, these violations are Level II.
Georgia Tech’s violations also included the booster’s impermissible recruitment of a potential transfer student-athlete as well as his provision of and arrangement for impermissible inducements to a transfer student-athlete from the head coach’s previous institution. Although the head coach had departed, the booster maintained relationships with those affiliated with the head coach’s former basketball program. With respect to one student-athlete, the booster maintained a personal friendship. In early February 2017, while the student-athlete was still competing in the 2016-17 season, the booster introduced the idea of transferring to Georgia Tech. The contact occurred prior to Georgia Tech requesting permission to contact and the booster informed the head coach about the possibility of the prospect transferring. The booster’s aggressive recruiting continued with regular communication, resulting in violations of Bylaws 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124.1.
The booster also provided the transfer student-athlete with shoes and arranged for him and his brother to visit the booster and his girlfriend by purchasing roundtrip airfare in violation of Bylaws 13.2.1 and 126.96.36.199-(b). In light of the conversation surrounding the booster’s purchase of the ticket and the fact that the booster cancelled the ticket as soon as he found out the transfer student-athlete committed to a different institution, the panel concludes the booster’s intention for the trip was motivated by a recruiting purpose. The violations are also Level II.
Although each case is unique, the facts and circumstances of this case align with recent contested cases involving Level II extra benefit and inducement violations. See University of Connecticut (2019) (concluding that Level II extra benefit violations occurred when a trainer, who was an institutional booster and occasionally invited to campus to attend games by the head coach, provided free basketball training sessions to three student-athletes valued at $1,152) and University of Mississippi (2017) (concluding that, among other violations, an individual Level II violation occurred when a booster provided family members of a student-athlete with roughly $2,000 of free lodging).16 Mississippi also involved inducement and benefit violations at the other ends of the spectrum. See Mississippi (concluding that a Level I violation occurred when a booster provided a student-athlete’s mother’s boyfriend with $800 and the football program arranged for a student-athlete to access a different booster’s hunting land on his official visit and later as an enrolled student-athlete). The facts and circumstances of this case align with the COI’s past cases involving Level II violations.
While informative, the value of the benefit is only one of the factors the COI considers when determining the appropriate level. Here, the value was relatively low but not outside the ranges of Level II violations in past cases. But this case also involved the booster’s intentional efforts to develop relationships with men’s basketball student-athletes to benefit the head coach’s program. The violations provided were not isolated or limited. They occurred for roughly one year and involved three pairs of shoes, clothing, meals, and two planned cost-free trips. Further, they provided (or were intended to provide) more than a minimal benefit to the student-athletes. Therefore, pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.2, the Panel concluded the violations are Level II.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4
Aggravating Factors for the Institution
19.9.3-(a): Multiple Level I violations by the institution;
19.9.3-(b): A history of Level I, Level II or major violations by the institution;
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation
or related wrongful conduct;
19.9.3-(i): One or more violations caused significant ineligibility; and
19.9.3-(m): Intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution and bylaws.
Mitigating Factors for the Institution
19.9.4-(b): Prompt acknowledgement of the violation, 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): An established history of self-reporting Level III or secondary violations.
Aggravating Factors for the Assistant Coach
19.9.3-(a): Multiple Level I violations by the assistant coach;
19.9.3-(d): Obstructing an investigation or attempting to conceal a violation;
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-(i): One or more violations caused significant ineligibility;
19.9.3-(j): Conduct or circumstances demonstrating an abuse of position of trust; and
19.9.3-(m): Intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution or bylaws.
Mitigating Factors for the Assistant Coach
19.9.4-(h): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations by the assistant coach.
As a result of the foregoing, the Committee penalized Georgia Tech as follows: