The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee”) recently issued its findings and found that the University of Florida (“UF”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. This case involved a single recruiting violation in the football program at UF.The Committee concluded that an assistant football coach at UF committed a Level II violation when he had an off-campus recruiting contact with a football prospective student-athlete during the prospect’s junior year of high school. The contact occurred at the prospect’s high school.
UF and the assistant football coach agreed with the violation set forth in this decision. Specifically, they agreed that on January 23, 2014, the assistant football coach and the prospective student-athlete engaged in a conversation which exceeded a casual greeting. The conversation occurred on the prospective student-athlete’s high school campus, included some talk related to the assistant football coach’s recruitment of the prospective student-athlete and concluded with the prospective student-athlete entering his social media contact information into the assistant football coach’s phone. UF and the assistant football coach agreed this encounter constituted an impermissible recruiting contact with a high school junior prospective student-athlete per NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124.
The enforcement staff alleged the violation as a Level II. UF and the assistant football coach disagreed with the enforcement staff over the appropriate violation level, asserting that it was a Level III. The Committee concluded that conduct resulting in an impermissible recruiting contact occurred and established more than a minimal recruiting advantage. Therefore, the violation is a Level II. The Committee further concluded that the violation is mitigated for both the institution and the assistant football coach. The Committee prescribed no other penalties.
Violations of NCAA Bylaws 13.02.4 and 126.96.36.199 (2013-14 NCAA Division I Manual)
The assistant coach violated NCAA recruiting legislation when he had an in-person, off-campus contact with the prospect prior to July 1 following the prospect’s junior year of high school. Because regular and personal contact with prospects are important aspects of recruiting, the violation provided or was intended to provide more than a minimal recruiting advantage to the institution. Therefore, the violation is a Level II.
NCAA Article 13 governs the circumstances under which coaches are allowed to have contact with prospects. Two bylaws within Article 13 are relevant to this case. NCAA Bylaw 13.02.4 defines a contact as a face-to-face encounter between a prospect and an institutional staff member during which a dialogue in excess of a greeting exchange occurs. The same bylaw also defines a contact as any face-to-face encounter that takes place on the grounds of a prospect’s educational institution, regardless of whether any conversation occurs. NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52 prohibits institutional staff members from having off-campus recruiting contacts with prospects until July 1 following completion of their junior year of high school.
On January 23, 2014, the assistant coach had an in-person, off-campus conversation with the prospect at the prospect’s high school. The prospect was a high school junior at the time. Their dialogue exceeded a greeting, as the assistant coach had the prospect input his social media contact information into the assistant coach’s phone. They also had at least some conversation regarding UF’s ranking of the prospect as a coveted recruit and UF’s desire that he enroll there. Because the encounter exceeded an exchange of greetings and occurred on the prospect’s high school campus, the panel concluded that it constituted a contact as defined by NCAA Bylaw 13.02.4. Further, because the contact took place away from UF’s campus and prior to July 1 following the prospect’s junior year of high school, the Committee concluded that the assistant coach engaged in a prohibited contact pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206.
UF and the assistant coach acknowledged a violation occurred but asserted that it was a Level III. NCAA Bylaw 19.1.3 defines a Level III violation as a breach of conduct that is isolated or limited in nature and provides no more than a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage. The staff alleged the violation as a Level II. NCAA Bylaw 19.1.2 defines Level II violations as significant breaches of conduct that provide, or are intended to provide, more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage. Based on the circumstances of this case and the nature of the violation, the panel concluded that this violation is Level II.
The head coach and assistant coach both acknowledged the importance of having the prospect’s social media contact information. The assistant coach sought to obtain this information so that he could maintain consistent contact with a coveted recruit without having to be concerned about NCAA telephone contact rules or the prospect’s changing phone numbers and/or email addresses. The prospect himself alluded to the importance of coaches maintaining regular contact during the recruiting process when he spoke of having the most interest in the institutions that provided him the most attention. The assistant coach gained the social media contact information through an impermissible in-person contact with the prospect at the prospect’s high school at a time when coaches who were abiding by the rules were unable to have the same level of contact. Having the information was important to UF’s recruitment of the prospect, and getting the information during an in-person contact served a two-fold purpose of: (1) ensuring that the prospect knew the assistant coach made a visit to his institution to show an interest in him; and (2) allowing the assistant coach to maintain regular contact through the recruiting process. As the head coach stated, maintaining such regular contact is critical in recruiting. The assistant coach’s violation showed the prospect that the assistant coach was interested enough in him to make a trip to his high school and gave him the opportunity to maintain that critical regular contact. As such, the violation provided, or was intended to provide, more than a minimal recruiting advantage.
The interaction between the prospect and the assistant coach was not inadvertent, which is another one of the criteria for analyzing whether a violation is Level II or III. Prior to arriving at the prospect’s location, the recruiting service reporter told the assistant coach that the prospect would be waiting outside. Upon their arrival, the assistant coach approached the prospect rather than proceeding inside the school to obtain the prospect’s information from the school principal, as was his stated intention.
Further, when institutional personnel informed the assistant coach on March 19, 2014, that he was going to be interviewed by the enforcement staff, they did not tell him the basis for the interview. Yet the assistant coach reacted by telephoning the recruiting service provider to ask if they had done anything wrong. The assistant coach did not reach out to anyone else to discuss the impending interview. The assistant coach’s reaction shows that, at the very least, he realized that something about the contact may have been inappropriate. Regardless of the assistant coach’s understanding of the applicable recruiting rules or any intent he did or did not have to violate them, he knowingly placed himself into the situation where he had impermissible contact with the prospect. The contact was the natural result of him approaching the prospect and was not inadvertent.
Impermissible contacts of this nature exceed the boundaries of permissible recruiting activities and are a serious matter to the membership. The head coach spoke of his frustration with coaches frequently ignoring recruiting contact rules, and the Committee noted the membership’s concern with this issue more than a decade ago. (See University of Colorado, Case No. M182 (2002)). Impermissible contacts confer advantages upon those who engage in the contacts to the detriment of those who are abiding by the rules. The Committee noted in this case that the assistant coach was asked to resign from his position as a result of this violation. Under the circumstances of this case, the Committee declined to prescribe a show-cause penalty for the actions of the assistant coach.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.2 and 19.9.4.
Level II violations, representing an institution’s significant breach of conduct, includes one or more violations that provide or are intended to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage or impermissible benefit. Level II violations are more serious than Level III and yet do not rise to the level of Level I. They include systematic violations that do not amount to a lack of institutional control or collective Level III violations.
UF Aggravating Factors: none.
UF Mitigating Factor: prompt acknowledgement of the violation, acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures and/or penalties (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4(b)); affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4(c)); an established history of self-reporting Level III and secondary violations (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4(d)); and implementation of a system of compliance methods designed to ensure rules compliance and satisfaction of institutional/coaches control standards (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4(e)).
Assistant Coach Aggravating Factors: none.
Assistant Coach Mitigating Factors: prompt acknowledgment of the violation and acceptance of responsibility (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(b)).
As a result of the aforementioned violations, the Committee penalized UF as follows:
1. Head Coach Restrictions: The assistant coach was suspended from all off-campus recruiting for 30 days beginning on April 10, 2014 (institution imposed).
2. Recruiting Restrictions: UF ceased its recruitment of the prospect on April 10, 2014 (institution imposed).