The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or “Panel” or “COI”) recently issued its findings and found that Monmouth University (“Institution” or “MU” or “Monmouth”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. This case involved impermissible recruiting inducements, impermissible practice prior to enrollment, improper financial aid and extra benefits in the men’s tennis program at MU. The scope and nature of the violations demonstrated the former head men’s tennis coach’s failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and MU’s failure to monitor. This case centers on significant failures by both the former head coach and MU stemming from the recruitment of an international prospective student-athlete whose visa status delayed his enrollment. The failures allowed violations to occur undetected over the course of several months. This case is yet another example of the increased risk of violations when a prospect moves near campus prior to enrollment.
The Committee concluded that MU committed the following violations:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 13.2.1, 188.8.131.52-(h), 14.2.1 and 184.108.40.206.1 (2015-16)
From September through December 2015, MU and the former head coach provided the prospect impermissible recruiting inducements. The former head coach also impermissibly permitted the prospect to practice prior to enrollment. Monmouth and the NCAA enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that violations occurred. The former head coach denied knowingly violating NCAA legislation and thus contested his responsibility for the violations. The Panel concluded Level II violations occurred.
Although the prospect had not enrolled at Monmouth because of his visa status, the former head coach arranged housing for him and permitted him to practice throughout the fall 2015 term. Because of the housing arrangement, men’s tennis student-athletes provided the prospect transportation to and from practice, as well as meals. The recruiting inducements violated Bylaw 13 and practice prior to enrollment violated Bylaw 14.
Bylaw 13 governs recruiting. Bylaw 13.2.1 generally prohibits recruiting inducements and an institution’s staff member from being involved, directly or indirectly, in arranging for or giving or offering to give any benefits to a prospective student-athlete other than expressly permitted by NCAA legislation. As set forth in Bylaw 220.127.116.11-(h), specifically prohibited inducements include free or reduced-cost housing. Relatedly, Bylaw 14.2.1 requires student-athletes to be enrolled full-time to participate in practice. Bylaw 18.104.22.168.1 prohibits prospects from practicing prior to enrollment.
From September through December 2015, the prospect received multiple impermissible recruiting inducements in the form of housing, transportation and meals. The inducements started when the former head coach impermissibly arranged housing for the prospect while the prospect waited for his visa status to change so he could enroll for the fall 2015 term. In particular, when his first attempt to have the prospect live with student-athlete 1 fell through because student-athlete 1 chose to live with the other four student-athletes, the former head coach directed all five men’s tennis student-athletes to house the prospect. Although the former head coach denied he ordered the student-athletes to house the prospect, the student-athletes did not believe they could refuse the former head coach. The coach did not tell the compliance staff about the housing arrangement. The housing inducement totaled $1,232 and violated Bylaw 13.2.1-(h).
The former head coach asserted he only asked the student-athletes to house the prospect and did not have a role in determining the prospect’s portion of the living expenses. Although the Panel determined the former head coach directed the student-athletes to house the prospect, simply asking is itself “arranging housing” and an impermissible inducement. See Boise State University (2011) (concluding assistant football coaches asking student-athletes if they could house prospects and then informing prospects which student-athletes could provide housing constituted “arranging housing” and was a recruiting inducements violation).
With the prospect living near campus, the former head coach permitted the prospect to practice throughout the fall 2015 term. The prospect, however, did not enroll for the term because he did not obtain his student visa. Permitting the prospect to practice prior to enrollment violated Bylaws 14.2.1 and 22.214.171.124.1.
The housing arrangement also facilitated additional impermissible recruiting inducements. Multiple student-athletes provided rides for the prospect to practice on at least 37 occasions. The transportation inducements totaled approximately $67. In addition, student-athlete 3 provided at least 5 meals to the prospect at the on-campus cafeteria. The meals inducements totaled at least $56. The transportation and meals inducements totaled at least $123 and violated Bylaw 13.2.1.
There is an increased risk of violations when a prospect moves to the institution’s locale prior to enrollment. See University of South Florida (2017) (concluding a former assistant coach provided impermissible recruiting inducements to two prospects who stayed in the locale of campus prior to enrollment); and Boise State (concluding coaches and others provided impermissible recruiting inducements to multiple prospects in multiple sports who traveled to the locale of campus prior to enrollment). Likewise, the COI has warned the membership of pitfalls that could occur in these circumstances. See Radford University (2012) (citing several cases in which the COI warned of the elevated risk of violations when prospects arrive early on campus). This case—involving an international prospect without a student visa who stayed near campus for an entire term—is another example of the potential pitfalls that occur when a prospect moves to campus early.
Despite admitting to his conduct, the former head coach argued the Panel should not hold him responsible for the violations because he did not knowingly violate NCAA legislation. Specifically, he did not believe the prospect was still considered a prospective student-athlete under NCAA legislation. Regardless of the coach’s knowledge of the prospect’s status, knowledge of or intent to violate the legislation does not impact the Panel’s conclusion regarding the former head coach’s responsibility for the inducements and permitting the prospect to practice prior to enrollment. There is no “knowledge” component to Bylaws 13.2.1 or 126.96.36.199.1. An individual can violate the bylaws, even when he or she believes in good faith that the conduct is permissible. See Southern Methodist University (2015) (concluding the former head men’s golf coach committed a recruiting inducements violation despite not knowing the permissibility of selling merchandise at a reduced cost and believing prospects were no longer prospective student-athletes because they verbally committed).
In the alternative, the former head coach asserted the violations could be Level III because they were inadvertent, isolated and limited. See Bylaw 19.1.3. While the Panel acknowledged the violations were inadvertent, the Panel did not conclude the violations to be isolated or limited because the violations continued for the entirety of the fall 2015 term. Instead, the recruiting inducements and practice prior to enrollment are Level II violations because they are significant breaches that provided a substantial or extensive recruiting advantage as well as a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit. See Bylaw 19.1.2. The COI has regularly concluded impermissible recruiting inducements of a value and nature like the ones provided in this case are Level II. See Grambling State University (2017) (concluding an assistant women’s track and field coach and members or individuals affiliated with the program collectively provided transportation, housing, lodging, meals and cash to a prospect, and transportation, housing and lodging to a prospect’s father, that totaled $1,563 in inducements); and Sam Houston State University (2017) (concluding the former head women’s tennis coach purchased tennis rackets, paid association and tournament entry fees and arranged transportation and housing for a prospect, and paid the prospect to restring tennis rackets, that totaled $607 in inducements). Like in these cases, impermissible recruiting inducements totaling at least $1,355, and the impermissible practice prior to enrollment, are Level II violations.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaw 188.8.131.52 (2015-16)
From September through December 2015, the former head coach failed to meet his responsibilities as head coach of the men’s tennis program. Monmouth and the NCAA enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that the violation occurred. The former head coach disputed the allegation. The Panel concluded a Level II violation occurred.
The former head coach failed to meet his responsibilities as a head coach during the fall 2015 term. He is presumed responsible for the head coach responsibility violation because of his direct and personal involvement in arranging housing for the prospect and permitting the prospect to practice prior to enrollment. However, he failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance to rebut the presumption. The conduct violated Bylaw 11.
Bylaw 11 governs the conduct and ethics of athletics personnel. Bylaw 184.108.40.206 establishes an affirmative duty on head coaches to promote an atmosphere of rules compliance. Specifically, head coaches are presumed responsible for violations in their program but may rebut this presumption by demonstrating they promoted an atmosphere of compliance.
The former head coach did not rebut the presumption of responsibility and demonstrate he promoted an atmosphere of compliance. At the hearing, he argued he had a strong record of compliance and noted he did not previously commit a violation during his 12-year coaching career. He then provided examples of his commitment to ethical playing rules and student-athlete academics. The Panel acknowledged his lack of previous violations and commitment to the playing rules. The former head coach, however, failed to identify a single effort to promote compliance, including that he actively looked for red flags and potential violations, regularly solicited feedback to determine if monitoring systems functioned properly, provided timely, consistent and continuing education for his volunteer coach and student-athletes, and consulted the compliance staff on a regular basis.
The former head coach’s failure to consult the compliance staff despite the increased risk of violations with an unenrolled prospect in the locale of campus further demonstrates the former head coach’s failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. See South Florida and Boise State. While he did not believe the prospect to be a prospective student-athlete under NCAA legislation, at no time did he ask the compliance staff about how the delay in the prospect’s visa status affected his status as a prospective student-athlete, the activities the prospect could engage in or the interactions the prospect could have with the athletics staff and student-athletes. Likewise, the former head coach never informed the compliance staff that the prospect lived near campus despite communications with the compliance staff at the beginning of the fall 2015 term regarding the prospect’s status on the team. Instead, he made his own determination on the prospect’s status and application of NCAA legislation without consulting the compliance staff. This resulted in an environment that prioritized recruiting over compliance.
The COI has regularly concluded head coach responsibility violations when the coach makes his own uninformed determination without consulting compliance staff. See Grambling State (concluding the former head women’s track and field coach violated head coach responsibility legislation and that had she inquired about the permissibility of the living arrangement of the prospect that arrived early, she would have learned of the recruiting inducements violation); University of Hawaii at Manoa (2015) (concluding the former head men’s basketball coach violated head coach responsibility legislation when he determined an extra benefits violation did not occur without consulting the compliance staff); and University of Miami (2013) (concluding the former head men’s basketball coach violated head coach responsibility legislation when he did not inquire and report all compliance concerns, questions or violations). Like in these cases, the former head coach failed to consult the compliance staff and did not promote an atmosphere of compliance. Accordingly, the former head coach violated Bylaw 220.127.116.11.
Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.2-(e), this is a Level II violation because it resulted from underlying Level II violations. The COI has regularly concluded a Level II head coach responsibility violation is appropriate where the underlying violations, including recruiting inducements violations, are Level II. See Grambling State (concluding the head women’s track and field coach committed a Level II head coach responsibility violation based on underlying recruiting inducements violation); and Sam Houston State (concluding the former head women’s tennis coach committed a Level II head coach responsibility violation based on underlying recruiting inducements violation).
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Constitution 2.8.1 (2015-16)
From September through December 2015, Monmouth failed to monitor its men’s tennis program and the conduct of the former head coach. Monmouth and the NCAA enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that the violation occurred. The Panel concluded a Level II violation occurred.
Monmouth failed to monitor its men’s tennis program and the conduct of the former head coach to ensure compliance with NCAA legislation during the fall 2015 term. As a result, the recruiting inducements and practice prior to enrollment violations continued to occur undetected. In failing to monitor, Monmouth violated Constitution 2.8.1.
Constitution 2 sets forth core principles for institutions conducting intercollegiate athletics programs. Constitution 2.8.1 requires an institution to abide by all rules and regulations, monitor compliance and report instances of noncompliance.
Monmouth failed to satisfy its obligation to monitor the men’s tennis program by not scrutinizing activities at practice or educating the volunteer coach during the fall 2015 term. Specifically, Monmouth did not track who attended and participated at practice. Further, athletics administrators, including the sport supervisor whose job expected him to attend practices, did not attend a single practice. In fact, on several occasions only the volunteer coach, not the former head coach, attended practice. Monmouth, however, did not educate the volunteer coach on NCAA rules or require the coach to attend compliance meetings during the fall 2015 term or any of his six years at Monmouth. In fact, Monmouth did not require any of its volunteer coaches to attend compliance meetings. These systemic compliance failures violated Constitution 2.8.1 and prevented Monmouth from detecting the recruiting inducements and practice prior to enrollment violations.
While the systemic failures did not rise to a lack of institutional control, they demonstrate the absence of basic elements of a monitoring program and support a failure to monitor violation. Monitoring practice activities is fundamental to any compliance system. See Stanford University (2016) (concluding the institution failed to monitor countable athletically related activities in the women’s softball program when it did not establish adequate compliance systems to ensure student-athletes did not exceed time limits). Likewise, institutions must educate more than just full-time head or assistant coaches. Institutions must also educate others that regularly work or interact with student-athletes, including volunteer coaches. See Alabama State University (2016) (concluding the institution failed to monitor bookstore purchases by student-athletes by not providing adequate rules education to institutional staff members and bookstore personnel); and Alcorn State University (2016) (concluding the institution failed to monitor eligibility certification processes in multiple sports when it did not provide adequate rules education for academic advisors on progress-toward-degree requirements). In this case, Monmouth neither monitored practice activities nor educated its volunteer coach and thus lacked basic elements of a monitoring program.
Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.2-(b), failure to monitor violations are presumed Level II. In addition, Monmouth’s failure to monitor resulted in Level II recruiting inducements and practice prior to enrollment violations. Accordingly, the panel concludes Monmouth’s failure to monitor is a Level II violation. See University of Missouri, Columbia (2016) (concluding the institution committed a Level II failure to monitor violation involving the men’s basketball program when the institution allowed Level II recruiting inducements violations to occur undetected).
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 15.01.2, 15.01.3, 15.02.1 and 18.104.22.168 (2015-16)
In January 2016, Monmouth properly awarded $2,500 in additional aid to student-athlete 5. On February 8, 2016, student-athlete 5 improperly provided $505 cash each to student-athletes 1, 3 and 4, and $480 cash to student-athlete 2. Student-athlete 5 gave the aid to the student-athletes at the direction of the former head coach to cover their higher than expected living expenses due to the housing arrangement with the prospect. Monmouth is responsible for the conduct of student-athlete 5 and violated Bylaws 15.01.2, 15.01.3 and 15.02.1. In addition, the improper aid conferred extra benefits in the combined amount of $1,995 on student-athletes 1, 2, 3 and 4 and resulted in a violation of Bylaw 22.214.171.124.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4
Aggravating Factors for MU
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violations or related wrongful conduct; and
19.9.3-(i): One or more violations caused significant ineligibility or other substantial harm to a student-athlete or prospective student-athlete.
Mitigating Factors for MU
19.9.4-(a): Prompt self-detection and self-disclosure of the violations;
19.9.4-(b): Prompt acknowledgement of the violations, acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures and/or penalties; and
19.9.4-(h): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations committed by Monmouth and the men’s tennis program.
Aggravating Factors for the Former Head Coach
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or related wrongful conduct.
Mitigating Factors for the Former Head Coach
19.9.4-(h): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations committed by the former head coach.
As a result of the foregoing, the Committee penalized MU as follows:
1. Public reprimand and censure.
2. Two (2) years of probation from October 18, 2017 through October 17, 2019.
3. MU shall pay a $5,000 fine.
4. MU shall be restricted from initiating the contact with an international agent or initiating the contact with an international student-athlete in MU’s recruitment of student-athletes for its men’s tennis program from October 18, 2017, through October 17, 2019.
5. The former head coach received a one-year show cause penalty and was suspended from thirty percent (30%) of the first of his employment.
6. MU disassociated the prospect.
7. MU shall vacate all regular season and conference tournament men’s tennis records and participation in which the ineligible student-athletes competed from the time they became ineligible through the time they were reinstated as eligible for competition.