The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions (“COI” or “Panel”) 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 academic violations at the University of Missouri, Columbia (“MU” or “Missouri”) Specifically, an athletics department tutor completed and provided Missouri student-athletes with academic work in courses offered by Missouri, other institutions and on a Missouri math placement exam. While all parties agreed that the conduct violated multiple bylaws that fell into different categories, the tutor’s conduct violated a basic principle. Simply stated, she did their work.
Beginning in the summer of 2015 and continuing through the summer of 2016, the tutor completed academic work on behalf of 12 Missouri student-athletes. Both Missouri and the tutor admitted that her conduct violated ethical conduct and benefits bylaws. The conduct ranged from completing an entire course on behalf of one student-athlete to completing entire (or portions of) homework assignments, quizzes and exams for others. For two student-athletes, she helped complete a Missouri math placement exam to ensure that they would not be required to take a remedial math course. The tutor felt pressure to ensure that student-athletes passed their courses. She believed that Missouri personnel approved and rewarded her for her conduct, but such approval was not demonstrated by the record. The record did, however, demonstrate that the tutor committed several academic integrity violations on behalf of student-athletes. Missouri acknowledged, and the panel agreed, those violations are Level I.
The Committee concluded that MU committed the following violations:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1, 10.1-(c), 126.96.36.199 (2014-15 and 2015-16), 10.1-(b) (2015-16) and 10.1-(h) (2015-16) (Level I)
Missouri, the NCAA enforcement staff and the tutor agreed that for roughly a one-year period, the tutor completed academic work on behalf of student-athletes. She completed work for student-athletes enrolled in courses offered by Missouri, offered by other institutions and in connection with a Missouri math placement exam. All parties agreed that the conduct violated the principles of ethical conduct outlined in Bylaw 10 and did not align with appropriate benefits addressed in Bylaw 16. Missouri also agreed the violations were Level I. The panel agreed and concluded that Bylaw 10 and 16 violations occurred and that those violations are Level I.
Beginning in summer 2015 and continuing through summer 2016, the tutor completed academic work on behalf of 12 student-athletes in courses offered by Missouri, offered by other institutions and in connection with a Missouri math placement exam. She completed varying degrees of work for each of the student-athletes. For most of the student-athletes, she completed entire (or portions of) assignments, quizzes or exams within online courses in which they were enrolled. For one student-athlete, she completed a course in its entirety. For two student-athletes, she completed portions of an institutional math placement exam to ensure they would not have to enroll in a remedial course. The conduct resulted in Level I Bylaw 10 and 16 violations.
Bylaw 10 governs ethical conduct in collegiate athletics, with Bylaw 10.01.1 generally requiring that student-athletes and those employed by or associated with an institution’s athletics program to act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times. Bylaw 10.1 identifies several categories of unethical conduct, including knowing involvement in: arranging for fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts (Bylaw 10.1-(b)); providing extra benefits (Bylaw 10.1-(c)); and fraudulence in connection with an entrance or placement exam (Bylaw 10.1-(h)). An April 16, 2014, Official Interpretation of Bylaw 10.1-(b) explains that an institution has the authority to determine whether any academic misconduct has occurred consistent with its own policies applicable to all students. The interpretation also requires institutions to report academic misconduct violations when the conduct results in: (1) arranging for fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts or (2) an erroneous declaration of eligibility and a student-athlete’s subsequent competition. Finally, Bylaw 16 outlines permissible benefits, including academic support, that institutions may provide student-athletes.
Simply put, 12 student-athletes did not complete their own work. The tutor did. Although the tutor claimed to have felt pressure to ensure that student-athletes passed courses and believed her raise to be an overt acknowledgement and approval of her misdeeds, the record does not support a broader institutional scheme. It does support one institutional employee using her role as an athletics tutor to complete an entire course; select assignments, quizzes and exams (or portions of them); and providing assistance on placement exams to ensure student-athletes earned high enough scores. Although the conduct may be characterized as different types of academic violations under the applicable bylaws and interpretations based on the degree or type of help, at their core, all bylaws require student-athletes to do their own work. Here, that did not occur. In this case, the panel accepts the bylaw framing of the academic violations.
The tutor, an individual hired by the athletics department and entrusted to guide student-athletes through their academics, took it upon herself to complete work on their behalf. This conduct failed to meet standards of behavior required of institutional staff members under Bylaws 10.01.1 and 10.1. More specifically, when she substituted her academic work for the student-athletes’ she violated multiple provisions of Bylaws 10.1 and 16.
Under the academic misconduct framework applicable to this case, COI has routinely concluded that when institutional staff members complete work on behalf of student-athletes, Bylaw 10.1 and 16 violations occur. See University of Northern Colorado (2017) (concluding that Level I academic misconduct violations occurred when the head men’s basketball coach and four of his staff members completed online coursework for multiple prospects); California State University, Northridge (2016) (concluding that Level I unethical conduct and extra benefits violations occurred when a director of basketball operations completed varying degrees of coursework in online courses for men’s basketball student-athletes); and Georgia Southern University (2016) (concluding that Level I unethical conduct and benefits violations occurred when a compliance officer gave a student-athlete a flash drive containing coursework and he submitted some of the coursework as his own and when a staff member submitted extra credit papers for two student-athletes without their knowledge). The tutor’s conduct is analogous with these cases. Additionally, Bylaw 19.1.1 lists both unethical conduct and academic misconduct as examples of Level I violations. Consistent with these cases and Bylaw 19.1.1, the Panel concludes that Level I academic and benefits violations occurred.
The conduct at issue in this case is also distinguishable from the COI’s decision in University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2017). Among other differences, UNC stood by the courses and the grades it awarded student-athletes. In support of that position, UNC asserted that although courses were created and graded by an office secretary, student-athletes completed their own work. Here, by contrast, Missouri acknowledged that the tutor completed student-athletes’ work and, in most instances, this conduct violated its honor code.
In the COI’s past academic cases, the COI has consistently held both the institution and the institutional employee who engaged in the unethical conduct accountable for their actions. In this case, the principle actor who admitted to committing NCAA violations, was not originally a party to the case. The enforcement staff opted not to include the tutor as a party in the case largely due to her repeated threats to breach confidentiality. Threats within the infractions process should not serve as a shield from accountability. The membership entrusts all those within the infractions process to hold institutions and current and former institutional employees accountable when they break the membership’s rules. Consistent with that obligation, the Panel brought the tutor into this case as a party and concluded that she committed Level I violations.
Although the Panel simplified this case down to the basic principle of someone other than student-athletes completing their work, the case presented a potential gap in academic misconduct legislation and continued to illustrate the delicate balance of AMA interpretations within the infractions process. With regard to academic misconduct legislation, a legislative gap may exist if an institution is permitted to defer academic judgments involving its student-athletes’ and its employees’ conduct to a different institution that offered the course. This is particularly true when the institution offering the course is outside the NCAA membership and not required to develop written academic integrity policies and to adjudicate instances of potential academic integrity violations in accordance with those policies. With respect to interpretations, the Panel recognized the important role of AMA interpretations in providing guidance to the membership and the initial framing and charging of a case. Although the interpretations were not a determinative issue in deciding this case, the Panel was encouraged that the membership’s current review of the interpretive process will consider the proper balance between interpretations and the COI’s role of applying bylaws to facts within a case. See University of Oregon (2017).
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4
Aggravating Factors for Missouri
19.9.3-(b) A history of Level I, Level II or major violations by the institution; and
19.9.3-(i) One or more violations caused significant eligibility or substantial harm to a student-athlete.
Mitigating Factors for Missouri
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-(d) An established history of self-reporting Level III or secondary violations; and
19.9.4-(f) Exemplary cooperation.
Aggravating factors for the tutor
19.9.3-(e) Unethical conduct;
19.9.3-(h) Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or related wrongful conduct;
19.9.3-(i) One or more violations caused significant ineligibility or other substantial harm to a student-athlete or prospect;
19.9.3-(j) Conduct or circumstances demonstrating an abuse of position of trust; and
19.9.3-(m) Intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution or bylaws.
Mitigating factors for the tutor
19.9.4-(b) Prompt acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility; and
19.9.4-(h) Absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations.
As a result of the foregoing, the Committee penalized MU as follows: