The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or “Panel” or “COI”) recently issued its findings and found that the University of Southern California (“Institution” or “USC”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. The conduct at issue in this case was related to a broader scheme that involved money and influence at the intersection of collegiate and professional basketball. The scheme resulted in the arrest and prosecution of multiple individuals—including college basketball coaches—on conspiracy and bribery charges and led to significant reforms to strengthen the NCAA Collegiate Model. This case centered on the conduct of the former associate head men’s basketball coach at USC whose involvement in the scheme ended in his arrest and subsequent guilty plea. The case also involved allegations related to the associate head coach’s truthfulness during the NCAA investigation. The Panel determined that those violations were not demonstrated.
The Committee concluded that USC committed the following violations:
Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1, 10.1-(e) and 11.1.3 (2016-17 through 2017-18) (Level I)
The associate head coach attended a meeting with the agent associate and representatives of the agent associate’s new business management company. At the meeting, the associate head coach discussed his ability to steer men’s basketball student-athletes to retain the services of the management company. In doing so, he represented prospective and current student-athletes in marketing their skills to the management company. At the conclusion of the meeting, he accepted bribe money. USC and the associate head coach agreed that the conduct occurred and established Level I violations. The Panel agreed. The Panel concluded that the violations occurred, and they are Level I for both USC and the associate head coach.
Beginning in late July 2017 and continuing through his arrest on September 2017, the associate head coach participated in a scheme to direct USC men’s basketball prospects and student-athletes to a business management company led by his friend, the agent associate. The agreement originated during a meeting with the agent associate and representatives of his newly formed management company where the associate head coach represented his ability to direct student-athletes to the management company. The associate head coach accepted bribe money at the conclusion of the meeting. The associate head coach’s conduct resulted in Level I violations of NCAA Bylaws 10 and 11.
NCAA Bylaw 10 governs ethical conduct in collegiate athletics, with Bylaw 10.01.1 generally requiring student-athletes and athletics staff to act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times. NCAA Bylaw 10.1 identifies several categories of unethical conduct, including the receipt of benefits by an institutional staff member for facilitating or arranging a meeting between a student-athlete and an agent, financial advisor, or representative of an agent or financial advisor. NCAA Bylaw 11 governs the conduct of athletics personnel. Under NCAA Bylaw 11.1.3, athletics department staff members are prohibited from representing, either directly or indirectly, any individual in the marketing of their athletics ability or reputation to an agent, and from accepting compensation for such services.
The associate head coach went to Las Vegas to recruit on behalf of USC. While there, he took a meeting with the agent associate and representatives of the agent associate’s management company. The meeting and his actions thereafter established violations of NCAA legislation.
During the meeting, the associate head coach represented the talents and skills of current and future USC men’s basketball student-athletes to the management company in violation of NCAA Bylaw 11.1.3. Perhaps more troubling was the fact that he represented his level of influence over these young men and their families and his ability to serve as a gatekeeper for the management company. He expressly claimed that he could simply tell some of them what to do (i.e., to sign with the management company) and could influence others. Furthermore, he specifically referenced a high-profile prospect who, at the time of the conversation, was on an official visit at USC. He told the group that if the high-profile prospect signed with USC, they would meet him on campus the next day. Upon leaving the meeting, the associate head coach accepted $4,100.00.
Roughly one month later, the associate head coach met with the agent associate and representatives from the management company again in Los Angeles. Although he did not receive any payment for this second meeting, he reiterated his value to the management company as someone who could “put players in the lap” of the management company. Representatives from the management company also informed the associate head coach that they met with the father of a USC prospect earlier and intended to meet with a family member of a current USC men’s basketball player later. The associate head coach did not appear concerned, nor did he report what he had learned to anyone at USC. Instead, he characterized the group’s opportunity as a “gold mine” and cleaner than other opportunities he had been presented with in the past.
The associate head coach demonstrated a recurring lack of judgment that resulted in unethical conduct and representation violations for both himself and USC. Although his behavior may have originated out of a friendship with the agent associate, it waded into murky ethical waters and ultimately intersected with the agent associate’s corruption scheme within college basketball. The associate head coach appeared to have been blinded, in part, by his friendship with the agent associate and failed to completely grasp the severity of his actions. His conduct ran afoul of the honesty, integrity and ethical standards required of institutional staff members. He used his position of authority to further the initiatives of the management company, failed to meet the expectations of what is required of NCAA coaches and directly violated NCAA Bylaws 10.01, 10.1 and 10.1-(d). COI concluded that these violations are Level I for the associate head coach and USC.
Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.1, these violations are Level I because they seriously undermined or threatened the integrity of the Collegiate Model and involved unethical conduct violations. USC, the associate head coach and the NCAA enforcement staff agreed that the violations are Level I. The COI has previously concluded that Level I violations occurred where individuals engaged in unethical conduct. See Georgia Institute of Technology (2019) (concluding that a former assistant men’s basketball coach engaged in Level I recruiting violations and abused his position of trust when he orchestrated inducement and benefits from a notable booster—including a trip to the booster’s house and strip club—during a highly-touted prospect’s official visit) and University of Louisville (2017) (concluding that a director of basketball operations committed Level I unethical conduct violations when he provided strippers and prostitutes to prospects and student-athletes). Consistent with these cases and Bylaw 19.1.1, the violations here are also Level I.
USC agreed that the Level I violation applies to both the assistant coach and the institution. Under the membership’s violation structure outlined in Bylaw 19, COI has consistently assigned the same level designation to institutions and involved individuals for the same underlying conduct. Although not a new concept, the COI recently directly addressed this issue in Oklahoma State, University of Alabama (2020) and University of South Carolina (2021). In these cases, COI specifically identified that the level attaches to the conduct, not the actor. It is through the application and weight of party-specific aggravating and mitigating factors that COI differentiates between institutions and individuals to classify the case for each party and prescribe appropriate penalties consistent with the membership’s penalty guidelines. Here, USC agreed and accepted responsibility for the Level I conduct committed by its employee. Accordingly, the conduct is Level I for both USC and the associate head coach.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4
Aggravating Factors for the Institution
A history of Level I, Level II or major violations. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(b).
Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or related wrongful conduct. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(h).
Mitigating Factors for the Institution
Prompt acknowledgement of the violation, acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures. 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 or secondary violations. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(d).
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).
Exemplary cooperation. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(f).
Aggravating Factors for the Associate Head Coach
Unethical conduct and refusing to provide all relevant or requested information. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(e).
Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation(s) or wrongful conduct. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(h).
Conduct intended to generate pecuniary gain. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(l).
Intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution and bylaws. NCAA Bylaw 9.3-(m).
Mitigating Factors for the Associate Head Coach
Prompt acknowledgement of the violations and acceptance of responsibility. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(b).
The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, level II or major violations committed by the involved individual. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(h).
Other factors warranting a lower penalty range. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(i).
As a result of the foregoing, the Committee penalized USC as follows: