The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions (“COI” and “Committee”) is an independent administrative body of the NCAA comprised of individuals from the Division I membership and public. The COI decides infractions cases involving member institutions and their staffs. This case involved benefits, practice, coaching personnel and recruiting violations in the men’s basketball program at the University of Connecticut (“UCONN” or “Connecticut”). The former head men’s basketball coach also violated ethical conduct and head coach responsibility legislation and failed to cooperate.
The Committee concluded UCONN committed the following violations of NCAA rules:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 188.8.131.52-(a), 184.108.40.206.2 and 220.127.116.11.4 (2013-14); 18.104.22.168.2 (2014-15 and 2015-16); 11.7.3, 11.7.6, 22.214.171.124-(a) and 126.96.36.199.4 (2014-15 through 2016-17)
Over four academic years, the men’s basketball program routinely exceeded the permissible limit of CARA outside the playing season. Additionally, a noncoaching staff member engaged in impermissible coaching activity, which caused the program to exceed the number of countable coaches for three academic years. Connecticut and the enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that the facts constitute violations of NCAA legislation. The head coach agreed with the alleged CARA violations but disputed the level of the violations and the coaching activity allegation. The panel concludes that Level II violations occurred.
From the 2013-14 through 2016-17 academic years, the men’s basketball program did not record preseason pick-up games as CARA although student managers attended and distributed statistics from the games. The failure to record the time resulted in Bylaw 17 violations. The video coordinator, a noncoaching staff member, also provided coaching instruction to student-athletes on occasion from the 2014-15 through 2016-17 academic years. The video coordinator’s conduct constituted impermissible coaching activity under Bylaw 11 causing the program to exceed its countable coaches limit by one for those three years.
Bylaw 17 governs playing and practice seasons and, through Bylaw 188.8.131.52-(a), prohibits men’s basketball student-athletes from exceeding eight hours per week of CARA with no more than two hours per week on skill-related workouts during the preseason. Bylaw 184.108.40.206.2 specifies that no more than four student-athletes may be involved in skill-related instruction with their coaches at any one time during the preseason. Institutions must record countable hours on a daily basis for each student-athlete pursuant to Bylaw 220.127.116.11.4. In addition, Bylaw 11 regulates aspects of the conduct of athletics personnel. Bylaw 11.7.3 prohibits a noncoaching staff member with sport specific responsibilities—such as a video coordinator—from participating in on-court activities. Bylaw 11.7.6 limits a men’s basketball team to no more than four coaches.
Student-athletes exceeded weekly CARA limitations when Connecticut did not record pick-up games held during the preseason of the 2013-14 through 2016-17 academic years as CARA. The pick-up games became CARA when student managers attended the games, recorded statistics and then distributed the statistics to the coaches. The amount of impermissible CARA was significant—the games occurred between two and four times per week and each game lasted between one-and-one-half to two hours. Coaches also inquired about the student-athletes’ performance during these “captain’s practices.” Connecticut thus violated Bylaws 18.104.22.168-(a), 22.214.171.124.2 and 126.96.36.199.4.
Adhering to weekly CARA limits is a basic but fundamental requirement. The COI has consistently concluded that Bylaw 17 violations occur when programs exceed CARA limits. See California State University, Sacramento (2018) (concluding that violations occurred over four years when coaches in the men’s and women’s tennis programs mandated student-athletes’ participation in and/or monitored student-athletes’ involvement in a variety of tennis activities that were not recorded as CARA) and San Jose State University (2016) (concluding that violations occurred when, during three semesters, more than four women’s basketball student-athletes participated in out-of-season skill-related activities at the same time). Like in these cases, exceeding CARA limits for four years gave Connecticut a competitive advantage over institutions that complied with this legislation.
Occurring less frequently but still troubling, Connecticut also violated coaching activity legislation over three of the same four years. From 2014-15 through 2016-17, the video coordinator engaged in impermissible coaching instruction with student-athletes. The video coordinator provided basketball instruction and feedback to multiple student-athletes. The instruction included reviewing plays and answering questions about positioning on or near the court and in the film room. Consistent with an August 2018 interpretation issued by AMA in response to a joint request from the enforcement staff and institution, this instruction was impermissible. As a result, the video coordinator became a countable coach and the men’s basketball program exceeded its countable coaches limit in violation of Bylaws 11.7.3 and 11.7.6.
The COI regularly concludes that Bylaw 11 violations occur when noncoaching staff members give instruction to student-athletes because of the competitive advantage conferred by the violations. See University of Oregon (2018) (concluding that violations occurred when, over four years, noncoaching staff members in the men’s and women’s basketball programs engaged in impermissible coaching activities that caused their respective programs to exceed limits on countable coaches) and University of Northern Colorado (2017) (concluding that violations occurred when, a few times per week over several weeks, a noncoaching staff member engaged in impermissible coaching activities that caused the men’s basketball program to exceed limits on countable coaches). Like in these cases, the video coordinator’s conduct caused the institution to exceed coaching staff limits.
In accordance with Bylaw 19.1.2, the CARA and coaching activity violations are Level II. The CARA violations were not isolated or limited and gave Connecticut more than a minimal competitive advantage. The coaching activity violations occurring over three years were part of the broader pattern of CARA-related violations. The COI has regularly concluded that CARA and coaching activity violations that take place over multiple years are Level II. See Oregon; Sacramento State; Northern Colorado; and San Jose State. Nothing materially distinguishes these cases from the current case.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.1, 10.1-(a), 10.1-(c), 19.2.3, 188.8.131.52 (2017-18)
The head coach violated ethical conduct legislation when he knowingly provided false or misleading information during the investigation. The head coach failed to cooperate and further violated ethical conduct legislation when he declined to participate in a second interview. The head coach disputed the allegations. The panel concludes that the head coach committed Level I violations.
During his March 1, 2018, interview, the head coach knowingly provided false or misleading information when he denied his involvement in and personal knowledge of violations. His conduct violated Bylaw 10.
Bylaw 10 requires current and former staff members to conduct themselves in an ethical manner. Staff members must not knowingly furnish false or misleading information concerning their involvement in or knowledge of violations in accordance with Bylaw 10.1-(c).
The head coach violated ethical conduct legislation when he denied during his March 1, 2018, interview that he planned or arranged the video call between a prospect and the former professional basketball player during the prospect’s official visit.9 Substantial information in the record contradicted this denial and demonstrated that the head coach planned and arranged the call. In particular, the head coach told the prospect before the visit that he would put him on the phone with a former teammate during the visit. The head coach and staff also discussed during a staff meeting prior to the visit possibly arranging a call with someone like the former professional basketball player. The head coach thus knowingly provided false or misleading information in violation of Bylaw 10.1-(c).
The head coach also violated ethical conduct legislation when he denied knowing that the student-athletes trained with the trainer. His denial is not supported by the record. Multiple individuals corroborated that the head coach knew about the training both on campus and in Atlanta. Moreover, the head coach’s explanation that he was preoccupied with his duties for USA Basketball and travel and did not know that the student-athletes went to Atlanta is unpersuasive. The student-athletes had already traveled to Atlanta and received training by the time the head coach began the majority of his own travel. As head coach, he was in the best position to know about the training sessions—on- and off-campus—and the whereabouts of his student-athletes. When the head coach denied knowing that the student-athletes received training from the trainer, he again violated Bylaw 10.1-(c). Special honors and responsibilities, such as coaching for USA Basketball, do not absolve head coaches from fulfilling their basic duties.
Being forthcoming during an investigation is critical to the infractions process. The COI has consistently concluded that the knowing provision of false or misleading information is unethical conduct. See University of Alabama (2017) (concluding that an assistant coach engaged in unethical conduct when he knowingly provided false or misleading information during the investigation about recruiting violations) and Northern Colorado (concluding that two assistant men’s basketball coaches engaged in unethical conduct when they knowingly provided false or misleading information during the investigation regarding their involvement in academic fraud violations). Failing to give the enforcement staff truthful information significantly harms its ability to conduct a thorough and timely investigation. The conduct was contrary to the standards of ethical conduct that the membership expects of athletics staff entrusted to set an example for student-athletes.
The panel concluded that the unethical conduct violation is Level I pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.1. The COI has regularly concluded that individuals who violate ethical conduct legislation by knowingly providing false or misleading information during the investigation commit Level I violations. See Alabama and Northern Colorado. Bylaw 19.1.1-(d) also identifies an unethical conduct violation as an example of a Level I severe breach of conduct. This case can be distinguished from the few prior cases in which the COI concluded that unethical conduct violations for knowingly providing false or misleading information were Level II. See Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick (2017) (concluding that an assistant football coach engaged in unethical conduct when he knowingly provided false or misleading information during the investigation regarding his impermissible recruiting contact with a prospect); University of Mississippi (2016) (concluding that a head and assistant track coach engaged in unethical conduct when they knowingly provided false or misleading information during the investigation regarding their knowledge of and/or involvement in recruiting violations); and San Jose State (concluding that a head women’s basketball coach committed a Level II violation when he knowingly provided false or misleading information during the investigation regarding a nonqualifier’s participation in impermissible strength and conditioning activities and skill-related instruction). In these cases, unique circumstances did not warrant Level I violations in accordance with Bylaw 19.1.1. Here, however, the head coach knowingly provided false or misleading information regarding his involvement in and knowledge of violations that resulted in long periods of ineligibility for multiple student-athletes. In addition, the head coach was not forthcoming about multiple, separate events. The head coach seriously undermined and threatened the integrity of the infractions process and NCAA Collegiate Model when he knowingly provided false or misleading information. The circumstances in this case warrant a Level I unethical conduct violation.
Beginning in May 2018, the head coach chose not to participate in a second interview with the enforcement staff and institution. This hindered the enforcement staff’s investigation. His conduct violated Bylaws 10 and 19. Bylaw 10.1-(a) obligates staff members to make complete disclosure of information concerning possible violations when requested by the enforcement staff. To further the mission of the infractions process, Bylaw 19.2.3 requires staff members to cooperate fully with and assist the enforcement staff.
The head coach violated ethical conduct legislation and failed to fully cooperate with the investigation after his termination from Connecticut. The enforcement staff sought a second interview when it discovered new information and at the head coach’s urging to correct a statement from his interview. Despite repeated requests in May and June 2018 and again in the weeks leading to the hearing, the head coach declined to sit for a second interview until he resolved his legal issues with Connecticut. When the head coach declined to participate in a second interview, he acted in contravention of Bylaws 10.1-(a) and 19.2.3.
The head coach argued that an ongoing legal dispute with Connecticut should preclude him from sitting for a second interview. He contended that he sat for one interview, provided the enforcement staff with records and assisted with the investigation by identifying and obtaining information related to the case. Counsel’s advice and partial cooperation, however, do not negate the responsibility to fully cooperate in this process.
Although the panel acknowledges that individuals in the infractions process may be involved in outside legal proceedings, they must still participate in order for the process to function. There is no automatic exception for reliance on the advice of counsel. See University of the Pacific (2017)(concluding that the head men’s basketball coach failed to cooperate when he stopped participating in the investigation on the advice of counsel and due to a lack of financial resources) and University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (2000) (concluding that an academic counselor failed to cooperate when he did not answer questions during an interview with the institution on the advice of his counsel and did not respond to requests for interviews from the enforcement staff). The cooperative principle is a core tenet on which the entire infractions process depends. Allowing someone to not participate in the process based on the blanket “advice of counsel” argument would have a detrimental effect on the process and jeopardize the ability for the enforcement staff to develop full and complete facts.
In addition, the COI has routinely emphasized that the responsibility to cooperate means full cooperation throughout the process. See Pacific (concluding that the head men’s basketball coach failed to cooperate when he did not participate in the investigation for nearly a year before resuming his participation); University of Louisiana at Lafayette (2016) (concluding that an assistant football coach failed to cooperate when he declined to participate in a third interview and furnish phone records after having participated in two interviews earlier in the investigation); and Southern Methodist University (2015) (concluding that a men’s basketball administrative assistant failed to cooperate in the later stages of the investigation after having participated in two interviews). Like in these cases, the head coach failed to fully cooperate despite some cooperation during the investigation.
In accordance with Bylaw 19.1.1, the panel concluded that the unethical conduct and failure to cooperate violations are Level I. This is consistent with past cases. See Louisiana Lafayette and Pacific. Bylaw 19.1.1-(c) also identifies failure to cooperate as an example of a Level I severe breach of conduct.
This case is different than the few prior cases in which the COI concluded that failure to cooperate violations were Level II. See Sacramento State (concluding that a volunteer assistant women’s tennis coach failed to cooperate when he refused to interview with the enforcement staff after initially cooperating); University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2017) (concluding that a curriculum secretary failed to cooperate when she did not participate in the investigation initially); and Syracuse University (2015) (concluding that an academic coordinator failed to cooperate when she did not participate in the investigation initially). Unlike in North Carolina and Syracuse, the head coach initially cooperated before declining to sit for a second interview and answer additional questions from the enforcement staff. This left the enforcement staff with unanswered questions regarding the head coach’s knowledge of events related to the case. In addition, although the volunteer assistant coach in Sacramento State initially cooperated before refusing to interview, the COI processed the case via summary disposition in which the parties agreed to the level of the violations. Further, unlike a volunteer assistant coach, the head coach leads his program and, in this case, was central to the investigation. By failing to cooperate, the head coach seriously undermined and threatened the integrity of the infractions process and NCAA Collegiate Model. His unethical conduct and failure to cooperate violations are thus Level I.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaw 184.108.40.206 (2013-14 through 2017-18)
For most of his tenure, the head coach failed to monitor his staff and promote an atmosphere of compliance. Connecticut and the enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that the violation occurred. The head coach disputed the allegation. The panel concluded that the head coach committed a Level II violation.
The head coach did not meet his legislated head coach responsibilities for over four years. He failed to monitor his staff. In addition, through his personal involvement in and failure to stop and prevent violations, he did not promote an atmosphere of compliance. His conduct violated Bylaw 11.
Bylaw 220.127.116.11 establishes two affirmative duties for head coaches: (1) to promote an atmosphere of compliance; and (2) to monitor individuals in their program who report to them. The bylaw presumes that head coaches are responsible for the actions of their staff members. A head coach may rebut this presumption by demonstrating that he or she promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored his or her staff.
The head coach failed to rebut the presumption when he did not monitor staff in two areas. First, the head coach failed to monitor student managers who reported indirectly to him. The head coach knew that student-athletes played pick-up games attended by student managers each preseason in addition to the CARA that he and his staff led. The student managers prepared statistics for the coaching staff and he even talked with others about the games. But he failed to monitor the student managers’ actions to ensure that the games complied with NCAA legislation. He also never detected that the scrimmages became CARA although the violations involved student-athletes and student managers.
Similarly, the head coach also failed to monitor the video coordinator. The head coach instructed student-athletes after many practices to visit the video coordinator with questions about the team’s plays. At times, when they did, the video coordinator engaged in impermissible coaching activity.
Despite directing student-athletes to him, the head coach failed to monitor the video coordinator’s actions to ensure that he did not engage in impermissible instruction. The head coach also did not ask questions or look for red flags although the video coordinator reported to him and the violations occurred at the team’s practice facility.
Failure to monitor in and of itself results in a head coach responsibility violation. See Oregon (concluding that the head men’s basketball coach violated head coach responsibility legislation when he failed to monitor the director of basketball operations’ interaction with student-athletes) and University of Louisville (2017) (concluding that the head men’s basketball coach violated head coach responsibility legislation when he failed to monitor a staff member who supervised visiting prospects in a basketball dormitory). Nonetheless, beyond this failure to monitor, the head coach also did not promote compliance.
The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance in two ways. First, he personally involved himself in violations when he gave false or misleading information to the enforcement staff and institution. Simply stated, a head coach cannot rebut the presumption of responsibility when he knowingly provides false or misleading information during an investigation. See Southern Methodist (concluding that the head men’s basketball coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance, in part, because he provided false or misleading information during the investigation). Although the interview occurred near the very end of his tenure as head coach, his conduct during the investigation set the wrong tone as the leader of his program.
The head coach also failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he did not stop and prevent the impermissible training. The COI has regularly concluded that head coaches do not promote an atmosphere of compliance when they do not identify, address or report potential problems in their program. See Tennessee at Chattanooga (concluding that the head men’s tennis coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he did not inquire about the permissibility of student-athletes’ housing and automobile arrangements or discuss the arrangements with the compliance staff); The Ohio State University (2017) (concluding that the head men’s swimming coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he was aware that a prospect was on campus but failed to notify the compliance staff or take appropriate action to ensure the prospect’s housing arrangements complied with NCAA legislation); and Grambling State University (2017) (concluding that the head women’s track coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he failed to make inquiries regarding a prospect’s housing arrangements and did not stop and report known recruiting violations). Here, the head coach knew that the trainer was providing training services for multiple student-athletes on campus and that the student-athletes were planning to travel to Atlanta to continue training. But he did not consult the compliance staff and otherwise took no action to ensure that the training complied with NCAA legislation. This allowed the violations to occur.
Despite his failure to monitor staff, personal involvement in violations and failure to stop and prevent violations, the head coach argued that he rebutted the presumption of responsibility because of his track record of compliance. The head coach pointed to various statements by athletics staff members regarding their experience working with him on compliance-related matters. He also noted instances of good communication between the basketball and compliance staff. Further, at the hearing, the head coach described ways in which he emphasized compliance within his program, including rules education and creating an environment where his staff could report issues to the compliance staff.
The panel recognized the head coach’s previous lack of violations, examples of good communication, that he encouraged staff to report issues and efforts to educate staff. But the responsibility does not end there. The head coach did not sufficiently demonstrate that he monitored the actions of his staff members, actively looked for red flags and took charge to bring violations to the attention of the compliance staff. He also violated ethical conduct legislation while head coach. He thus failed to meet his responsibility to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor staff in accordance with Bylaw 18.104.22.168.
The head coach’s actions can be distinguished from those of previous head coaches whom the COI concluded rebutted their presumed responsibility. In Pacific, the violation at issue resulted from a legitimate misunderstanding between the head baseball coach and an associate athletics director. The COI concluded that the head coach rebutted his presumed responsibility because he demonstrated that he promoted an atmosphere of compliance. Likewise, in Wichita State University (2015), the head baseball coach failed one time to ask follow-up questions regarding his administrative assistant’s impermissible benefits violation. Unlike in Pacific and Wichita State, the head coach did not make a one-time mistake. Rather, multiple violations involving several individuals occurred over most of his tenure and he personally violated ethical conduct legislation while serving as head coach. He also did not bring violations to the attention of the compliance staff or spot check for violations. In short, the head coach was not vigilant in ensuring a compliant program.
The level of head coach responsibility violations derives from the levels of the underlying violations within the program. See Bylaws 19.1.1-(e) and 19.1.2-(e). This case involved multiple underlying Level II violations and one underlying Level I violation in the men’s basketball program. The panel carefully assessed the timing and duration of the underlying violations in determining the level of the head coach responsibility violation. Although the underlying unethical conduct violation for knowingly providing false or misleading information is Level I, it occurred just days before the head coach’s termination. The head coach, however, failed to monitor staff over four years and did not stop and prevent violations, which resulted in multiple Level II violations. Based on the timeline unique to this case, the panel concludes that the head coach responsibility violation is Level II as alleged by the enforcement staff. The violations and level for the head coach responsibility violation in this case are constrained to the facts and do not establish a standard or test. Future one-time conduct could result in Level I head coach responsibility violations.
The COI has consistently concluded that head coach responsibility violations are Level II when the underlying violations are Level II. See University of Utah (2018) (concluding that a Level II head coach responsibility violation occurred when the head baseball coach instructed and permitted his operations director to engage in impermissible coaching activity) and University of Hawaii at Manoa (2015) (concluding that a Level II head coach responsibility violation occurred when the head men’s basketball coach permitted and instructed an operations director to engage in coaching activities). The head coach responsibility violation here is Level II because, coupled with the unique circumstances in this case, the underlying violations are primarily Level II.
Level III Violations
The enforcement staff alleged multiple recruiting violations as Level II. Connecticut agreed that the violations occurred and were Level II. The head coach disagreed with many of the allegations and argued that any recruiting violations were Level III. The panel concluded several recruiting violations occurred but were Level III because they were isolated, limited in scope and provided no more than a minimal advantage.
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 by the institution;
19.9.3-(g): Multiple Level II violations by the institution;
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or related wrongful conduct; and
19.9.3-(k): A pattern of noncompliance within the sport program.
Mitigating Factors for the Institution
19.9.4-(b): Prompt acknowledgement of the violations, 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.
Aggravating Factors for the Head Coach
19.9.3-(a): Multiple Level I violations by the involved individual;
19.9.3-(e): Unethical conduct and failure to cooperate;
19.9.3-(h): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation
or related wrongful conduct;
19.9.3-(k): Pattern of noncompliance within the sports program; and
19.9.3-(m): Intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution and bylaws.
Mitigating Factors for the 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.
The Committee penalized UCONN as follows: