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The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee”) recently issued its findings and found that the University of Southern Mississippi (“USM”) committed major violations of NCAA legislation. The major infractions at issue involved the men’s tennis program and including intentional violations of NCAA bylaws concerning extra benefits, the principle of cooperation in investigations, as we as unethical conduct by coaches in the institution’s men’s tennis program over a two-year period beginning in January 2008 through May 2010.
Upon learning that their grants-in-aid would not be renewed, certain student-athletes on the men’s tennis team submitted a letter of complaint to the institution’s athletics director identifying potential NCAA rules violations in the men’s tennis program. The letter, dated May 13, 2010, was signed by three men’s tennis student-athletes as primary authors and four men’s tennis student-athletes who signed in support. After receiving the letter, the institution’s compliance department took immediate action.
Major infractions began in March 2008 in connection with a foreign tour in the Bahamas. The foreign tour began on March 9th and concluded on March 12, 2008. Eight student-athletes on the tennis team, the former head coach and the former assistant coach traveled to Nassau, Bahamas, to compete against a junior development team in accordance with NCAA foreign tour legislation. On or about March 12, 2008, the former head coach arranged for a one-day excursion for eight student-athletes to a nearby island to have lunch and to participate in snorkeling and other activities. The one-day excursion cost $200.00 per student-athlete. The former head coach paid for half of the expenses and the student-athletes each paid $100.00.
With the assistance of student-athlete 2, the men’s tennis program recruited a highly rated prospect, student-athlete 1, who ultimately signed a National Letter of Intent to attend USM. Student-athlete 1’s transition academically was difficult. He excelled athletically, but was not happy with the level of competition he was facing while competing for USM. Student-athlete 1 sought to be released by USM, but the former head coach would not comply. Ultimately, the former head coach and former assistant coach offered former student-athlete 1 $5,000.00 and a vehicle to encourage him to remain at USM. However, the benefits never exchanged handed. Additionally, the former head coach offered former student-athlete 1 $200.00 if he won a match. Student-athlete 1 ultimately lost the match.
On two separate occasions, the coaches of the men’s tennis program arranged for student-athlete 1 to obtain fraudulent academic credit. Student-athlete 1 struggled in his history course and sought help on an assigned history exam. The former head coach arranged for student-athlete 2 to write the paper for student-athlete 1 and agreed to pay him $100.00 for the work and an additional $50.00 for a good grade. Subsequently, student-athlete 2 was paid for the work. Similarly, student-athlete 1 struggled in a sociology course and sought assistance from the former assistant coach on a sociology essay. The former assistant coach provided two essays to student-athlete 1 via email and student-athlete 1 submitted the essays for course credit.
The Committee found that USM committed the following violations of NCAA legislation:
1. Unethical conduct in violation of NCAA Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1(a), (b), (c), (d), 19.01.2, 19.01.3, 32.1.4
The former head coach and former assistant coach attempted to keep former student-athlete 1 at the institution and maintain his eligibility to compete motivated their disregard for the rules. Between spring 2009 and spring 2010, the former head coach and the former assistant coach violated the principles of ethical conduct by committing academic fraud and by offering sizable inducements in the form of a vehicle and the amounts of cash to former student-athlete 1.
The Committee found that the coaches knowingly violated the bylaws because they: 1) offered sizable improper inducements to former student-athlete 1 and 2) engaged in academic fraud in violation of the NCAA legislation to the detriment of the educational well-being of two student-athletes.
The Committee found that the former head coach’s conduct constituted violations because he knowingly: 1) withheld true and complete information during the institution’s investigation of this case, and 2) refused to provide a response and to participate in interviews that would have aided in the enforcement staff’s complete investigation of this case.
The Committee found that the former assistant coach’s conduct constituted violations because he knowingly: 1) provided false, misleading and incomplete information to the institution during the investigations into NCAA rules violations, and 2) used his status as a coach to influence a student-athlete to furnish false, misleading and incomplete information to the institution and was knowingly involved in arranging for fraudulent academic credit for a student-athlete.
2. Failure to Monitor in violation of NCAA Constitution 2.8.1 and NCAA Bylaws 17.32.1, 30.1, 30.7.1
During the hearing, the officials from the institution described instances in which the former head coach did not follow existing travel policies and procedures, the compliance office did not maintain foreign tour certification documents, athletics senior staff did not provide general administrative oversight over the men’s tennis program and the department of athletics failed to provide the athletics compliance function with the necessary staff and/or resources.
Officials from the institution confirmed that receipts for airfare and hotel accommodations and the January 2008 correspondence from the Bahamas Law Tennis Association are the only documents that exist in connection with the foreign tour. The institution failed to monitor because it did not maintain, and, therefore, could not produce any other documentation confirming that the institution’s foreign tour approval and certification process was completed as required under the rules. Additionally, the institution failed to monitor because it did not maintain and, therefore, could not produce any documentation confirming that the institution’s travel procedures were followed. Furthermore, because per diems provided for away-from-home contests also were not closely tracked, the officials from the institution believed that institutional funds “left over” after a road trip could have been the source of the $150.00 paid to student-athlete 2 for writing former student-athlete 1’s history assigned at the end of a tournament in fall 2009.
The institution did not live up to its responsibilities under NCAA constitutional provisions 2.8.1 because the institution did not have the necessary systems and procedures in place to ensure an acceptable level of rules compliance.
As a result of the aforementioned violations, the Committee penalized USM as follows:
1. Public reprimand and censure.
2. Four years of probation from January 30, 2013 through January 29, 2017.
3. One-year postseason ban in men’s tennis.
4. The men’s tennis team shall be prohibited from participating in a foreign tour until 2016.
5. The institution will engage an outside organization to conduct a compliance review at the earliest possible date.
6. The institution will vacate 22 team wins and 276 individual wins, to include all wins in which former student-athlete 1 and former student-athlete 2 competed while ineligible during the 2008-09 through 2009-10 men’s tennis seasons.
7. The former head coach received a seven-year show cause penalty concluding on January 29, 2020.
8. The former assistant coach received a six-year show cause penalty concluding on January 29, 2019.