The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or “Panel”) recently issued its findings and found that Georgia Southern University (“GSU” or “Institution”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. This case involved two academic violations at GSU. Both violations involved former institutional staff members who were expected to fulfill a role, at least in part, in ensuring academic integrity surrounding student-athletes. This case originated as a Summary Disposition Report (“SDR”). After consideration, however, the Panel rejected the SDR to further consider application of NCAA Bylaw 10 to the agreed-upon conduct. In this case, the Panel encountered the narrow interpretation in which the NCAA’s legislative and charging bodies have taken with respect to analyzing academic misconduct violations. The Panel was also presented with a limited record in this case. Based on those factors, the Panel concluded that the institutional staff members provided impermissible academic assistance rather than having committed academic misconduct. All participating parties agreed violations were Level I, and the Panel concludes the same.
The Committee found that GSU committed the following violations of NCAA legislation:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.1-(d) (2013-14 NCAA Division I Manual), NCAA Bylaws 10.01.1 and 10.1 (2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 Division I Manuals), NCAA Bylaws 10.1-(c) and 126.96.36.199 (2013-14 and 2014-15 Division I Manuals) and NCAA Bylaws 10.1-(a) and 19.2.3 (2014-15 and 2015-16 Division I Manuals)
A. Former Assistant Compliance Director
The former assistant compliance director committed unethical conduct on three occasions when she provided a student-athlete with impermissible academic assistance, influenced him to provide false and misleading information and then failed to cooperate with the enforcement staff’s investigation. Her conduct violated NCAA Bylaws 10 and 19.
NCAA Bylaw 10.01.1 requires employees of member institutions to act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times. Further, NCAA Bylaw 10.1 defines unethical conduct. Examples of unethical conduct include NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(a) failing to furnish information relevant to an investigation, NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(c) knowing involvement in providing extra benefits and NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d) knowingly influencing others to provide false and misleading information. NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52 prohibits student-athletes from receiving arrangements or benefits not expressly authorized by the bylaws. NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3 requires current and former institutional staff members to fully cooperate in the infractions process. Finally, the 2014 official interpretation on academic misconduct provides institutions with the authority to determine whether conduct violated their academic policy.
After finalizing student-athlete 1’s class schedule, the former assistant compliance director provided him with a flash drive containing her previous coursework for a class that was included on student-athlete 1’s schedule. He later copied an entire assignment contained on the flash drive and submitted it as his own work for that class. When interviewed, student-athlete 1 also admitted that he may have used portions of other assignments earlier in the semester. When he was later questioned about the assignment by his professor, student-athlete 1 worked with the former assistant compliance director to draft two email responses taking responsibility for the submission and indicating that he found the flash drive. Student-athlete 1 initially told the same story in his first interview with the institution. He later admitted the former compliance director gave it to him and developed the false story.
The NCAA membership expects all individuals employed at member institutions to act with honesty at all times. Here, the former assistant compliance director failed in her core responsibility to ensure compliance. Her direct involvement in unethical conduct and refusal to cooperate with the enforcement staff’s investigation demonstrated behaviors contrary to NCAA Bylaw 10.01.1. She acted unethically on three occasions. First, she knowingly provided student-athlete 1 with a flash drive containing her previous coursework, a benefit she knew she could not provide and one not authorized under NCAA legislation. Her conduct violated NCAA Bylaws 10.1, 10.1-(c) and 184.108.40.206. Next, once student-athlete 1 informed her that he had been caught submitting her previous work, she developed a false story on how student-athlete 1 found the flash drive. She then influenced student-athlete 1 to memorialize that story in two emails and his interview with the institution. Her conduct violated NCAA Bylaws 10.1 and 10.1-(d). Finally, the former assistant compliance director failed to cooperate with the enforcement staff’s investigation. Since September 2014, she has refused to respond to the enforcement staff’s request for relevant information. Her conduct violated NCAA Bylaws 10.1, 10.1-(a) and 19.2.3. The panel concludes that the violations are Level I because they seriously undermine and threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model.
Since publication of the 2014 official interpretation, the Division I Committee on Infractions has issued three decisions concluding an institutional staff member violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b) when performing academic work for a current or incoming student-athlete. In these cases, the institution had determined that an institutional staff member engaged in conduct that violated its academic policy. See Weber State University (2014) (concluding that a math instructor violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b) when she obtained the usernames and passwords of three student-athletes, logged in to their accounts and completed homework, quizzes and exams); Southern Methodist University (2015) (concluding that a basketball receptionist violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b) when she completed online coursework for an incoming student-athlete without his knowledge); and Southern Mississippi University (2016) (concluding that men’s basketball staff members violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b) when they enrolled and completed online coursework for incoming student-athletes, at times without their knowledge).
Here, the institution determined the former assistant compliance director’s conduct violated its academic dishonesty policy. Accordingly, the panel probed whether her conduct violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b) or NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(c). In its exploration, the panel noted that on its face the conduct at issue – an institutional staff member providing completed coursework materials to a current student-athlete, which the student-athlete subsequently decided to submit as his own work – appeared to violate NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b). However, based on the particular facts of this case, as well as interpretations provided by the enforcement staff (and AMA staff) on the nature and quality of conduct giving rise to a NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b) violation, the Panel could not conclude the former assistant compliance director violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b). The Panel noted, however, that the same conduct under different circumstances could result in an academic misconduct violation.
B. Former Assistant Director of Student-Athlete Services
The former assistant director of student-athlete services submitted 10 extra credit papers on behalf of two student-athletes without their knowledge. She obtained their usernames and passwords, drafted five extra credit papers for each, logged in to their accounts and submitted the papers for credit. Her conduct violated NCAA Bylaws 10 and 16.
The former assistant director of student-athlete services violated one of her core responsibilities to ensure academic integrity. Without the knowledge of the student-athletes, she used their usernames and passwords to log in to their accounts and submit extra credit papers she drafted on their behalf. Her conduct failed to fulfil the expectations of institutional employees established by NCAA Bylaw 10.01.1. Similarly, she violated NCAA Bylaws 10.1 and 10.1-(c) when she knowingly provided student-athletes 2 and 3 with five extra credit assignments a piece. Pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 220.127.116.11, because these benefits were not permissible under NCAA legislation, they were extra benefits.
Similar to the conduct of the former assistant compliance director, the Panel explored whether the former assistant director of student-athlete services’ conduct was most appropriately addressed under NCAA Bylaws 10.1-(b) or 10.1-(c). The panel specifically reviewed the conduct in comparison to recent cases involving institutional staff members completing and submitting coursework on behalf of student-athletes. See Weber State University (2014) Southern Methodist University (2015) and Southern Mississippi University (2016).
In each of those instances, however, the institution determined and self-reported academic misconduct (NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(b) violations). Here, while the conduct is analogous to recent academic misconduct cases, the institution did not determine that the conduct violated its academic dishonesty policy. Specifically, the professor determined not to pursue academic dishonesty charges because the student-athletes were unaware of the conduct and the submission of the extra credit did not increase their performance to passing grades. Respecting the interpretative guidance that institutions make such a determination, the Panel concluded the violation is impermissible academic assistance violation (NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(c)). The Panel concluded the violation is Level I because it undermines and threatens the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model.
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): 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.
Aggravating Factors for the Former Assistant Compliance Director
19.9.3-(a): Multiple Level I violations by an involved individual.
19.9.3-(d): Obstructing an investigation or attempting to conceal the violation.
Aggravating Factors for the Former Assistant Director of Student-Athlete Services
19.9.3-(e): Unethical conduct.
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or wrongful conduct.
19.9.3-(f): Violations were premeditated, deliberate or committed after substantial planning.
Mitigating Factors for the Institution
19.9.4-(a): Prompt self-detection and self-disclosure of the violations.
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.
19.9.4-(e): Implementation of a system of compliance methods designed to ensure rules compliance and satisfaction of institution/coaches’ control standards.
As a result of the foregoing, the Committee penalized GSU as follows:
1. Public reprimand and censure.
2. Two years of probation from July 7, 2016, through July 6, 2018, or completion of the final penalty, whichever is later.
3. The football program will reduce the total number of financial aid awards in the football program by two awards during the 2016-17 academic year. If the institution has already executed athletically related financial aid agreements to prospective student-athletes for the 2016-17 academic year, the institution may serve the reduction during the 2017-18 academic year.
4. Recruiting Visit Restrictions: The institution shall reduce the number of official visits during the 2016-17 academic year by 10 percent from its four-year average.
5. Off-Campus Recruiting Restrictions: The institution shall reduce the number of fall 2016 evaluations by 10 percent from its four-year average.
6. The institution shall pay a $5,000 fine plus an amount equal to one percent (1%) of the football program’s operating budget.
7. The former assistant compliance director received a three-year show cause penalty.
8. The former assistant director of student-athlete services received a three-year show cause penalty.
9. The institution shall vacate all regular season, conference tournament and postseason wins in which student-athletes 1 and 3 competed from the time they became ineligible through the time they were reinstated as eligible for competition.