The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or “Panel” or “COI”) recently issued its findings and found that the University of Louisiana, Lafayette (“ULL” or “Institution”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. This case initially arose out of a different investigation at another member institution. The NCAA enforcement staff interviewed a football student-athlete who had transferred to ULL and an assistant football coach. Both of these individuals became central figures in this case. The interviews ultimately led to an NCAA investigation of the ULL football program centered on possible entrance exam fraud committed by a former assistant football coach and several enrolled football student-athletes.
The Committee found the following violations of NCAA legislation:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1, 10.1-(h) (2010-11 through 2012-13 Division I Manuals); 12.11.1 (2014-15 Division I Manual); 14.1.2, 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124.1 (2011-12 through 2013-14 Division I Manuals); 14.10.1 (2013-14 Division I Manual); 14.11.1 (2011-12 and 2012-13 Division I Manuals); and 15.01.5 (2011-12 through 2013-14 Division I Manuals)
The former assistant football coach violated NCAA unethical conduct, amateurism, eligibility, and financial aid legislation when he knowingly arranged for five football prospects to obtain fraudulent college entrance exam scores at a rural Mississippi high school test site. While a substantial competitive advantage did not result from his violations of unethical conduct and eligibility legislation, his actions resulted in a substantial recruiting advantage and involved conduct that severely undermined or threatened the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model. The institution substantially agreed that the former assistant football coach knowingly arranged for the five prospects to obtain fraudulent exam scores.
The NCAA membership has promulgated several rules that govern an institution’s and institutional staff’s ethical obligations and responsibilities in maintaining eligibility of student-athletes. The NCAA general principle on honesty and sportsmanship is articulated in NCAA Bylaw 10.01. NCAA Bylaw 10.1 generally governs unethical conduct by current and former institutional staff members. Specifically, NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(h) prohibits prospects, current student-athletes, and current or former institutional staff members from engaging in fraudulence or misconduct in connection with entrance or placement examinations. NCAA Bylaws 12.11.1, 14.10.1 and 14.11.1 collectively require member institutions to certify student-athletes’ eligibility and immediately withhold any student-athlete from intercollegiate competition who is ineligible under the provisions of the constitution, bylaws or other regulations of the NCAA.
NCAA Bylaw 14.1.2 requires member institutions to determine the validity of the information on which the eligibility of a student-athlete is based. NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199 defines what constitutes a nonqualifier under freshman eligibility standards in place at the time. A nonqualifier is a student who has not graduated from high school or who did not present the core-curriculum grade point-average (GPA) and the college entrance exam scores required for a qualifier or an academic redshirt. NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52.1 prohibits nonqualifiers from being eligible for athletics-based financial aid, regular-season competition or practices during the first academic year of residence. NCAA Bylaw 15.01.5 regulates the eligibility of student-athletes to receive institutional financial aid. The bylaw requires undergraduate and graduate student-athletes to meet applicable NCAA, conference, and institutional regulations during any term of regular attendance in order to receive institutional financial aid.
Based upon a preexisting relationship with the test administrator and past success with prospects earning qualifying entrance exam scores, the former assistant football coach directed five prospects to the high school testing site where they eventually received fraudulent exam scores. The test administrator at the high school was a longstanding acquaintance of the former assistant football coach. He knew the test administrator would have the expertise, access, and opportunity to alter the exam scores and that the site would have standby availability because of its rural location. While the former assistant football coach denied any wrongdoing in his interviews, he did acknowledge that but for him informing the five prospects about the rural high school test site, they would not have known about the site. Student-athletes 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 each took college entrance exams at the high school test site in Mississippi on varying dates. Student-athlete 3 took the February 2011 exam at the high school. Student-athlete 4 took the June 2012 exam at the high school. Similarly, student-athletes 5, 6 and 7 took the June 2013 exam at the high school. The test administrator administered each of the respective exams at the high school.
Each of the prospects travelled a great distance to get to the rural location, with many of the prospects living in south Florida. Each of the prospects had taken the college entrance exam on at least one previous occasion, with some taking the exam multiple times, and four of the five prospects failed to obtain a NCAA qualifying score for initial eligibility. However, after taking the exam at the high school where the former assistant football coach had a contact as the test administrator, each of the five prospects obtained a substantially higher exam score than they previously had achieved. Those substantially higher exam scores made them all initial qualifiers under NCAA eligibility legislation. The college entrance exam provider eventually cancelled four of the five prospects’ exam scores obtained from the rural high school test site because of improprieties there. Those improprieties included unusual increases in the exam scores and substantial erasure patterns evincing numerous changes to the prospects’ answer sheets that resulted in numerous correct answers added to the prospects’ exams.
Moreover, the former assistant football coach had numerous and consistent communications with the test administrator and the five prospects and/or their parents or guardians in the days and weeks immediately prior to each date of the college entrance exams. Student-athlete 7 stated that the test administrator was “expecting” him on this day of his exam and knew that he was from Louisiana. Phone and text message records showed the former assistant football coach speaking with or exchanging texts with the five prospects and/or their parents or guardians. Those communications corroborate a credible and persuasive narrative of deceit by the former assistant football coach. Once the prospects obtained initial qualifying scores, they were subsequently admitted to the institution; four of the five prospects received athletics aid, and most competed for the institution over a period of several seasons before the violations were discovered. After the investigation began and the violations were discovered, the institution withheld the prospects from competition and put them through the NCAA reinstatement process.
When the former assistant football coach arranged for the five prospects to take the college entrance exam at the high school where the test administrator worked, he knew they would likely obtain fraudulent exam scores which would allow them to achieve initial qualifying scores. Accordingly, he violated NCAA Bylaw 10. Additionally, when those five prospects obtained fraudulent exam scores on their college entrance exams, they were certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center, and were later admitted to the institution. Moreover, four of the five prospects received athletics aid from the institution and competed while ineligible. As a result, the former assistant football coach’s conduct resulted in institutional violations of NCAA Bylaws 12, 14 and 15 which govern initial eligibility standards and the responsibility of member institutions to withhold ineligible student-athletes from intercollegiate competition.
The COI has previously dealt with entrance exam issues in University of Memphis (2009). That case involved a men’s basketball prospect’s multiple attempts to obtain an NCAA initial qualifying score. In that case, another college entrance exam provider invalidated a men’s basketball student-athlete’s score. The involved student-athlete competed for the institution the entire 2007-08 season. The enforcement staff initially alleged the student-athlete committed unethical conduct in connection with his college entrance exam. Although there was no institutional staff involvement in the University of Memphis violations, the student-athlete in that case travelled long distance from Chicago to Detroit to take his college entrance exam, similar to the long distances travelled by student-athletes in this case. He had previously taken a different college entrance exam three times in the Chicago-area but had not achieved a qualifying score. The test provider conducted its own investigation into the student-athlete’s college entrance exam and identified discrepancies on his exam. After sending two requests to the student-athlete to provide further information in its investigation, the test provider cancelled the student-athlete’s college entrance exam score due to his non-cooperation. The COI ultimately did not need to make a determination as to whether the student-athlete engaged in unethical conduct by the alleged fraudulent completion of his college entrance exam because the test provider cancelled his exam score, which rendered him academically ineligible for competition his freshman season.
The panel cautioned coaches and athletics staff against involving themselves in academic matters, including college entrance exams. While the institution likely could not have prevented the academic misconduct violations from occurring in this case because the former assistant football coach was determined to conceal his activities, the institution is responsible for the academic misconduct of its former staff member because institutions act though their staffs. The panel concludes the facts found constitute Level I violations of NCAA bylaws because the violations provided or were intended to provide a substantial recruiting advantage and involved conduct that seriously undermined or threatened the NCAA Collegiate Model.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws NCAA BYLAWS 10.01.1, 10.1, and 10.1(c) (2011-12 and 2012-13 NCAA Division I Manuals); 13.2.1 and 184.108.40.206-(e), and 13.15.1 (2011-12 Division I Manual); 16.01.1, 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168 (2012-13 Division I Manual)
When the former assistant football coach provided student-athlete 2 with cash payments to cover his living and educational expenses, he violated NCAA recruiting legislation. Between spring and fall 2012, the former assistant football coach provided impermissible inducements and extra benefits to one prospect in violation of NCAA Bylaws 13 and 16. In doing so he also committed unethical conduct in violation of NCAA Bylaw 10.
Regarding impermissible inducements, NCAA Bylaw 13.2.1 generally prohibits institutional staff members from directly or indirectly giving or offering any financial aid or other benefits to a prospect. NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124(e) specifically prohibits institutional staff from providing, among other things, cash or like items. NCAA Bylaw 13.15.1 prohibits institutional staff from offering, providing, or arranging financial assistance, directly or indirectly, for any period prior to the prospect’s enrollment or so the prospect can obtain postgraduate education.
NCAA Bylaw 16.01.1 generally prohibits student-athletes from receiving any extra benefit. The bylaw also renders a student-athlete who receives unauthorized awards, benefits, or expenses ineligible for athletics competition. NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199 generally defines an extra benefit as any special arrangement by an institutional employee to provide a student-athlete or his or her relatives with a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation. NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52 details a list of other benefits or services that are prohibited but not limited to: loans of money; a guarantee of bond; an automobile or use of an automobile; transportation; or signing or cosigning a note with an outside agency to arrange a loan. NCAA Bylaw 10.1(c) prohibits a coach from knowing involvement in arranging, offering or providing a prospect or enrolled student-athlete an improper inducement or extra benefit or improper financial aid. Athletics staff members who do so commit an unethical conduct violation.
The former assistant football coach recruited student-athlete 2 to the institution. Student-athlete 2 was from south Florida and transferred to the institution from another member institution. He was not working at the time and was not receiving any financial aid from the community college or the institution. He was living in the institution’s on-campus housing while taking courses at the community college. While he was taking coursework at a local community college in the spring and summer of 2012, the former assistant football coach provided student-athlete 2 with approximately a $5,000 cash payment to cover his living and educational expenses. The former assistant football coach disbursed the cash to him in an institution parking lot immediately prior to student-athlete 2 making the payment. Student-athlete 2 provided substantially accurate information consistent with the timing of cash payments he made to the institution’s cashier’s office. The institution’s bursar records showed that student-athlete 2 made several cash payments to the institution in amounts substantially consistent with those payments detailed by him.
Similarly, in the fall of 2012, the former assistant football coach provided student-athlete 2 with a cash payment of $1,500 to pay an installment of his housing expenses at the institution. The former assistant football coach again met student-athlete 2 in a parking lot on campus to disburse the cash. Student-athlete 2 took the money and made the cash payment on his student account for his housing expenses. While the institution’s bursar records do not indicate the source of the cash payments, the panel found the timing and substantially correct information provided by student-athlete 2 regarding the amounts he received from the former assistant football coach to be credible and persuasive.
Regardless of the source of the cash, the former assistant football coach made the cash payments to student-athlete 2. Although the panel was somewhat concerned about student-athlete 2’s credibility and there were no other known witnesses to the payments, other corroborating information such as the timing of the payments and bursar records made it objectively reasonable to for the panel to conclude a violation occurred. When the former assistant football coach provided student-athlete 2 with approximately $6,500 in cash payments he violated NCAA Bylaws 13 and 16. Additionally, his provision of the cash payments constituted a separate act of unethical conduct under NCAA Bylaw 10.1(c).
The COI has issued decisions in several cases in recent years where coaches have provided impermissible inducements to prospects and concluded Level I or major violations. See Northeastern University (2014) (concluding head coach knowingly provided impermissible transportation and lodging to prospects); St. Mary’s College of California (2013) (concluding assistant coach knowingly arranged for a prospect to receive impermissible transportation and housing); University of Miami (2013) (concluding assistant coaches knowingly provided impermissible transportation, meals and lodging to prospects); Boise State University (2011) (concluding head coach knowingly arranged and/or provided impermissible lodging, meals, apparel and cash to a prospect).
The panel concludes the facts as found constitute Level I violations of NCAA bylaws because they provided or were intended to provide a substantial recruiting advantage and involved conduct that seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model.
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.01.1 10.1, 10.1(d) (2013-14 Division I Manual); 10.1 –(a) (2014 – 15 Division I Manual); 19.2.3 and 184.108.40.206 (2014-15 Division I Manual)
The former assistant football coach violated NCAA ethical conduct legislation when he knowingly denied having any knowledge of arranging for five prospects to take college entrance exams at the rural Mississippi high school and obtain fraudulent exam scores. He also provided false and misleading information during the investigation and failed to cooperate fully throughout the infractions process. His actions seriously undermined or threatened the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model. Accordingly, the former assistant football coach violated NCAA Bylaw 10.
NCAA Bylaw 10.01.1 generally provides that institutional staff shall act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times and shall represent the honor and dignity of fair play in competition. NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d) defines unethical conduct as knowingly furnishing the NCAA or the individual’s institution false or misleading information concerning an individual’s knowledge or involvement in possible violations of NCAA legislation. NCAA Bylaw 10-(a) deems it unethical conduct for an institutional staff member to refuse to furnish information relevant to an investigation of possible violations of NCAA legislation when requested to do so by the NCAA or the individual’s institution.
Institutional staff have are required to cooperate fully throughout the infractions process. NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3 provides that current and former institutional staff members have an affirmative obligation to cooperate fully with and assist the enforcement staff, COI, and Infractions Appeals Committee to further the objectives of the NCAA and its infractions program. NCAA Bylaw 220.127.116.11 details some of the potential consequences for failing to satisfy the responsibility to cooperate including, an independent allegation and/or being considered an aggravating factor for purposes of determining a penalty.
Here, the former assistant football coach failed to disclose his knowledge of and involvement in potential rules violations. He denied any wrongdoing and only acknowledged that he informed the five prospects of the availability of rural Mississippi test site as a standby location. His denials are not consistent with the information in the record. He admitted to knowing the test administrator but denied directing the prospects to the high school test site. But he conceded that the prospects would have had no idea about the rural high school test site but for his informing them. The five prospects travelled great distances to take a college entrance exam at the site. He denied arranging for the prospects to obtain fraudulent exam scores at the test site. However, telephone and text records showed that he was in consistent communication with the prospects and/or their parents or guardians in the hours, days and weeks immediately prior to the exam dates.
Those same records showed that he was also in consistent communication with the test administrator in the hours and days immediately prior to several of the prospects exams at the rural high school. Ostensibly, it is objectively reasonable for the panel to conclude that the purpose of such communications was to at least inform the test administrator that each of the prospects would be sitting for an exam at her test site. Due to improprieties on their exams, four of the five prospects obtained fraudulent scores that were later cancelled by the college entrance exam provider. Accordingly, when the former assistant football coach provided false or misleading information in the investigation, he violated NCAA Bylaw 10.
The former assistant football coach also failed to fulfill his obligation to cooperate fully during the investigation. The former assistant football coach participated in two interviews, one on December 16, 2013, and the other on February 25, 2014. In January and February 2015, the enforcement staff requested that he participate in a third interview and furnish his cellular phone records. Through his counsel, he declined to sit for a third interview or supply his cellular phone records. This was despite the fact that he was informed that the third interview would include his knowledge of or involvement in potential rules violations not previously discussed in his other interviews. He also refused a request by the institution to sign a document to allow the institution to obtain payment records from the college entrance provider about who paid for the five prospects’ exams. He failed to submit a detailed response to the NOA and he failed to attend the hearing. When the former assistant football coach declined to participate in a third interview and refused to furnish his cellular phone records, he failed to fulfill his obligations to cooperate fully in the investigation. Accordingly, he violated NCAA Bylaw 19.2.3.
The former assistant football coach’s unethical conduct is similar to other decided cases in recent years. See e.g., University of Tennessee (2011) (concluding coaches lied to investigators); University of Oklahoma (2011) (concluding coach lied to investigators); Southeastern Louisiana University (2015) (concluding head coach lied about the duties of a volunteer assistant coach); University of North Carolina (2012) (concluding assistant coach lied to investigators about his relationship with a sports agency); Texas Southern (2008) and (2012) (concluding coach lied to investigators); Indiana University (2008) (concluding coach lied to investigators); Southern Methodist University (2015) (on appeal) (concluding administrative assistant lied to investigators and failed to fully cooperate in investigation).
The former assistant football coach’s conduct in this case was particularly troubling because his actions involved academic misconduct and his actions caused the significant ineligibility of several prospective and later enrolled student-athletes. He endeavored to conceal his activities from the rest of the football coaching staff and the athletics compliance staff, and his violations went largely undetected until the enforcement staff interviewed student-athlete 2 in connection with another investigation. To the institution’s credit, once it became aware of the violations, it moved swiftly to work with the enforcement staff in the investigation and to identify new documents and individuals with information to assist in the investigation. The institution also identified and reported at least one new exam fraud violation through its efforts in the cooperative investigation.
The panel concludes the facts found constitute Level I violations of NCAA bylaws because the violations involved conduct that seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4.
ULL’s Aggravating Factors were as follows: Multiple Level I violations by the institution or involved individuals (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(a)); and one or more violations caused significant ineligibility or other substantial harm to a student-athlete or prospective student-athlete (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(i)).
ULL’s Mitigating Factors were as follows: Prompt acknowledgement and 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)); established history of self-reporting Level III or secondary violations (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(d)); and exemplary cooperation (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(f)).
Former Assistant Coach’s Aggravating Factors were as follows: Multiple Level I violations by the institution or involved individuals (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(a)); unethical conduct, compromising the integrity of an investigation, failing to cooperate during an investigation or refusing to provide all relevant or requested information (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(e)); violations were premeditated, deliberate, and committed after substantial planning (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(f)); and intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution or bylaws (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(m)).
Former Assistant Coach’s Mitigating Factors were as follows: None.
As a result of the aforementioned violations, the Committee penalized ULL as follows:
1. Three years of probation from January 12, 2016 to January 11, 2018.
2. Scholarship reductions from the average number awarded over the previous four academic years: the football program shall reduce the number of initial scholarships by three in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years for a sum reduction of six initial scholarships from the average. Further, the football program shall limit the total number of scholarships awarded in 2015-16 to 80; shall limit the total number of scholarships awarded in 2016-17 and 2017-18 to 82 each academic year representing a sum reduction of 11 scholarships.
3. The institution shall pay a one-time fine of $5,000.00.
4. Recruiting restrictions:
a. The institution reduced the number of permissible off-campus recruiting days by six in the fall of 2015 and 22 in the spring of 2016. The institution also reduced off-campus recruiting days by 12 in the fall of 2014. (Institution imposed).
b. The institution limited official visits to 38 for the fall of 2015, a reduction by four from the average number of visits offered during three of the last four years. The institution also limited official visits to 44 in 2014-15. (Institution imposed). The panel accepts and adopts the institution’s self-imposed restrictions on official visits. The panel further prescribes the institution shall limit the number of official visits to 38 in the 2016-17 academic year; and
c. The institution prohibited all recruiting communications (initiating telephone calls, contact via social media, and written correspondence with prospective student-athletes) for a three-week period during the 2015-16 academic year to include: Sunday, October 11 through Saturday, October 17, 2015; Sunday, November 1 through Saturday, November 7, 2015; and Sunday November 22 through Saturday, November 28, 2015. (Institution imposed). The panel accepts and adopts the institution’s self-imposed recruiting communications restrictions. The panel further prescribes an additional three-week ban on all institution-initiated recruiting communications in the football program for the 2016-17 academic year. The three-week ban shall be in effect during the same or analogous weeks the institution banned recruiting communications in football during the 2015-16 academic year.
5. Public reprimand and censure.
6. The institution vacated the 2011 football season, including the program’s victory and participation in the New Orleans Bowl that season, as a result of the participation of student-athlete 3 while ineligible. The panel accepts and adopts the institution’s vacation of the 2011 football season. Additionally, when the former assistant football coach arranged for several prospective student-athletes to obtain fraudulent entrance exam scores to meet initial eligibility standards, he committed academic misconduct. The former assistant coach’s actions caused several of the prospective student-athletes to receive fraudulent scores and those prospective student-athletes later enrolled and competed for the institution while ineligible in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons. Therefore, pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 19.9.7-(g) and 18.104.22.168, the institution shall vacate all regular season and postseason bowl participation and wins in which ineligible student-athletes competed from the time they became ineligible through the time they were reinstated as eligible for competition.
7. In this case, the panel concluded that the former assistant football coach committed multiple severe violations, engaged in unethical conduct, and failed to cooperate in the investigation. Therefore, the former assistant football coach will be informed in writing by the NCAA that should he be employed or affiliated in an athletically related position at another NCAA member institution during an eight-year period, from January 12, 2016, through January 11, 2024, within 30 days of the former assistant football coach’s hiring, that employing institution shall ask for a date to appear before a hearing panel to show cause why the restrictions on all athletically related duties should not apply.