rob rosner

Decision Reached in University of Tennessee’s Major Infractions Case

Fans of the University of Tennessee Volunteers have endured a year of speculation about NCAA penalties for their football and men’s basketball programs.  They were outraged that Lane Kiffin rode into town in the offseason two years ago, made brash promises of returning to elite status in the world of college football, and then bolted for the USC job a year later – leaving a trail of NCAA infractions in his dust.  Subsequently, they learned that their beloved men’s basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, who had taken the men’s program to previously unrealized heights, also drew the attention of NCAA investigators last summer.  Pearl lied to those investigators in June 2010.  He claimed he did not recognize the location in which he was pictured with recruits when it was in fact his own kitchen.  The school administration originally stood by Pearl, but eventually terminated his contract in March 2011.  Last week, the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) handed down their decision regarding the infractions committed by the University of Tennessee.

The best aspect of the COI’s decision, from Tennessee’s perspective, is that the infractions committed by Kiffin and his staff were all found to be secondary violations.  Another satisfying element of the decision is that no postseason ban is placed on the men’s basketball program.  Furthermore, the COI did not tack on any additional recruiting restrictions that will affect the new coaching staffs in the football and men’s basketball programs. 

Tennessee did not get off scot-free, though.  The COI simply accepted many of the recruiting restrictions that the institution self-imposed on Pearl and his staff during the past academic year.  The institution also placed several restrictions on the new men’s basketball coach, Cuonzo Martin, and his staff that will end after November 2011.  New penalties for the university, handed down by the COI, include a public reprimand and censure, and a two year probationary period for the athletics department.  The athletic department’s media guides must contain a statement explaining what infractions have been committed.  Furthermore, as part of the probation, the University of Tennessee must prepare comprehensive, annual reports of their increased compliance efforts – specifically detailing the new NCAA rules’ education system that the compliance department must implement.  This punishment is standard for universities that are on probation for committing major infractions.

The COI issued harsher penalties for Pearl and three assistant basketball coaches.  Pearl has been given a three year “show-cause” penalty.  A “show-cause” tag means that a coach is prohibited from all recruiting activities.  Any university that seeks to employ such an individual must provide substantive reasons documenting why the coach in question should be allowed to recruit.  A university could also theoretically hire a coach with a “show-cause” tag attached to his name and not challenge the recruiting restrictions, but recruiting is obviously an integral part of coaching.  The three assistant coaches have each been given a one year “show-cause” penalty.  Therefore, the assistants could potentially get new coaching jobs for the 2012-2013 academic year, but Pearl probably can’t coach again until the 2014-2015 academic year.  Yesterday, Pearl announced that he has spurned a coaching offer from the NBA Developmental League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks.  Instead, he will take a position as the Vice President of Marketing for H.T. Hackney Co., in Knoxville, so he can stay close to several of his older children who live in the area.

In effect, the University of Tennessee has come away from this ordeal without suffering huge penalties going forward.  The university has lost several successful coaches, their athletic director, and perhaps their reputation has been somewhat tarnished.  If the compliance department does a good job over the next few years, though, and their sports teams avoid future trouble, this case may be forgotten relatively quickly.  As individual parties to this case, however, Pearl has suffered irreparable damage to his coaching reputation, and the three assistants carry a scarlet letter on their résumés as well.  Kiffin, on the other hand, retains a poor reputation in some circles, but he has not been directly associated with a major violation.  Everyone involved can move forward from a nightmarish two years.

- Rob

Booster Education

Twenty-five years ago, Southern Methodist University (SMU) was penalized for repeated transgressions made by representatives of their athletics interests, or “boosters.”  The transgressions included buying cars for recruits, providing free or reduced cost housing for football players or their families, and making cash payments to football players.  The cash payments came from a “slush” fund that was created by boosters.  The NCAA discovered the violations in the early 1980s and placed SMU on probation.  Yet, SMU’s president, athletic director, coaches, and boosters decided that it would be unfair to the current student-athletes to cut off the payments.  Thus, in 1986, several disgruntled former players tipped off the NCAA that cash payments were still being made.  The NCAA gave the SMU football program the so-called “death penalty” – the university was not allowed to field a football team in 1987.  Players were allowed to transfer to other schools and play immediately.  As a result, SMU did not have enough players to field a team in 1988 either.  In 1989, the football program was reborn, but it has taken about 20 years for SMU to become competitive again.

Blame can be allocated to all parties in the SMU scandal.  The university’s president knew of the illegal payments and did not attempt to stop them.  Coaches and athletics staff members knew all about the payments but they didn’t want to put a stop to something that was helping them win.  The boosters obviously knew about the payments – they were providing the money – but they just wanted to feel like they were contributing to the success of the program.  The NCAA can also take some blame in this case and also for the general atmosphere of bedlam surrounding boosters and all major college football programs in the 1970s and 1980s.  The NCAA legislation regarding boosters needed to become clearer.  The NCAA Committee on Infractions also needed to show the country that they took these violations very seriously.  Dishing out the death penalty to SMU set a new standard – one that forced other schools to take notice.

Cases like SMU’s have contributed to the growth of athletics compliance.  Universities realized they needed to monitor the actions of their coaches, players, and even their boosters.  Today, some of the bigger universities have compliance staffs that consist of as many as eight or nine full-time employees and a few interns.  Every university has at least one full-time employee that handles the athletics compliance issues.  One way that compliance personnel attack potential issues with boosters providing impermissible benefits is to educate its boosters.  Compliance officers generally send a newsletter to their university’s boosters a few times a year.  Most universities also post the information on their athletic department’s website.  The following information is an example of the educational materials provided to boosters.

Who is a booster?

Bylaw 13.02.14 provides that the following individuals are representatives of an institution’s athletics interests, or boosters:

a) persons who have participated in or to be a member of an agency or organization promoting the institution’s athletics programs
b) persons who have ever made financial contributions to the athletics department or to a booster organization of that institution
c) persons who have been assisting or have been requested (by the athletics department staff) to assist in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes
d) persons who have assisted in providing benefits to enrolled student-athletes or their families
e) persons who have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution’s athletics program      

Many universities also generalize that the following groups of individuals are boosters: former student-athletes from the university; and, parents or legal guardians of former student-athletes from the university.  Per NCAA Bylaw, individuals who have been identified as boosters at any time retain that status for life.

Who is a prospective student-athlete?

A prospective student-athlete is any student who has started classes for the ninth grade. A student who has not yet started ninth grade may become a prospect if a university or a booster provided the student, their relatives or friends, with financial assistance or benefits not generally provided to other students. In addition, student-athletes enrolled in preparatory school or two-year colleges, or those who have officially withdrawn from a four-year school, are considered prospects. A prospective student-athlete remains a prospect even after he/she has signed a National Letter of Intent or accepted an offer of admission or financial aid to attend a university. A prospect becomes a current student-athlete only when he/she reports for preseason practice or the first day of classes, whichever occurs first.

Who is a current student-athlete?

A current student-athlete is any student who is presently a member of a varsity athletics team, who is receiving athletically related financial aid or who has completed his/her eligibility but is still enrolled in the institution. NCAA regulations apply to all student-athletes, not just those student-athletes who were recruited or who receive an athletic scholarship.

What is an extra benefit?

Members of the athletic staff and representatives of athletics interests are prohibited from providing an extra benefit to a prospective or current student-athlete. An extra benefit is any gift or arrangement provided to a prospective or current student-athlete or their relatives or friends that is not expressly permitted by the NCAA.

Examples of extra benefits include, but are not limited to:

- cash
- gifts
- monetary loans or cosigning of loans
- a vehicle or use of a vehicle
- payment for or the arrangement of transportation
- free or reduced-cost goods or services
- free or reduced cost housing

Student-athletes who receive any extra benefits are immediately ineligible for intercollegiate competition, they must repay the entire amount of the benefit, and they often must petition the NCAA for the reinstatement of their eligibility. In cases in which boosters provide the extra benefit, the NCAA or institution often imposes penalties related to disassociation of the booster from the university’s athletic programs.

What is recruiting?

Recruiting is any solicitation of a prospect or the prospect’s parent/legal guardian by a university staff member for the purpose of securing the prospect’s enrollment and/or participation in one of the university’s athletic programs. Recruiting activities include correspondence, e-mail, faxes, telephone conversations, and in-person contacts (on and off-campus).

Who may recruit?

Only coaches who successfully complete the NCAA Recruiting Rules Examination on an annual basis may recruit off-campus for the athletic program.

Boosters are prohibited from engaging in any recruiting activities either on or off-campus. An alumnus of the institution may receive phone calls from prospects to discuss their university in general, but may not discuss athletics.

Faculty and staff members are not permitted to recruit off-campus, but they may have on-campus contact with prospects. In general, faculty and staff members may not telephone a prospect until July 1 following the completion of his or her junior year in high school. In most instances, a call by a faculty or staff member counts as the prospect’s one call that they may receive from the institution each week. Therefore it is imperative that calls from faculty and staff are coordinated through the coach. Faculty and staff members may write to prospects after September 1 of their junior year.  Athletic department staff members may have recruiting contacts with prospects on campus only.

A spouse of a coach or staff member may have contact with a prospect on-campus. Additionally, he or she may make an off-campus contact during the prospect’s official visit, as long as it is within a 30-mile radius of the institution’s main campus. The spouse may not however, correspond in writing (i.e. a follow-up letter after a visit) with the prospect.

A member of the Board of Trustees may not make on or off-campus recruiting contact with a prospect.

Enrolled student-athletes and other enrolled students are not considered to be boosters as long as any contact with a prospect is incidental and does not occur at the direction of a member of the athletic department. Enrolled students should be aware that they:

- may not make or participate in telephone calls to prospects at the direction of a coaching staff member or financed by the university or one of its boosters
- may receive telephone calls made at the expense of the prospect after July 1 following the completion of the prospect’s junior year in high school
- may exchange written correspondence with a prospect
- may serve as student hosts for a prospect

What may boosters do?

Permissible activities with prospective student-athletes:

- you may continue to have contact with an established family friend or neighbor who is a prospect as long as such contact is not for recruiting purposes and is not initiated by a university’s coach
- you may bring outstanding prospects to the attention of the coaching staff by sending the coach newspaper clippings and other information about the individual
- you may assist a prospective student-athlete who has signed a National Letter of Intent with securing employment the summer before he/she enrolls in a university. All arrangements of employment must be reported to the Compliance Office

Permissible activities with currently enrolled student-athletes:

- you may have contact with enrolled student-athletes on campus (limited to a pleasant greeting and conversation - an exchange of extra benefits would NOT be permissible)
- you may invite a student-athlete(s) or the entire team for a meal at your home and provide transportation to the event. The meal, which may be catered, should be limited to infrequent or special occasions (holidays, birthday, etc.) Please seek permission from the Compliance Office first
- you may invite an entire team for a meal when they are visiting your city for an away-from-home athletic event. When the team is on the road, this meal may take place at the booster’s home or at a restaurant, but must include the entire team
- you may assist a student-athlete with securing summer and post-graduation employment. However, the student-athlete may only be paid for work he/she actually performs (at a rate commensurate with the type of work). All arrangements of employment should be reported to the Compliance Office
- you may contribute to a university’s athletic department monetarily. These contributions help subsidize the university’s commitment to providing a quality athletic experience for all of its student-athletes

There is a lot of information that compliance offices provide to boosters.  It is also always stressed to boosters that they should call the compliance office before doing something if they are uncertain of its permissibility. Despite the best efforts of compliance personnel, some boosters still break the rules, of course.  The difference between now and the 1970s and 1980s, though, is that universities try to crack down on their own shady boosters instead of encouraging their impermissible activities.  As a result, no Division I school has been given the death penalty since SMU, 25 years ago – and hopefully the increased booster education will keep the death penalty dormant for another 25 years or more.

- Rob

Transparency and Diligence Are Increasingly Important Qualities of Compliance Offices

The NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) handed down another ruling at the end of last week.  Georgia Tech’s football and basketball programs have been penalized for transgressions that occurred in 2009 and 2010.  The COI’s report emphasized several points that every athletics compliance office should heed.  Institutions can make life easier for themselves if they follow a few simple tenets during an NCAA investigation: first, be completely transparent – open up your books, records, and all involved staff members – and second, diligently pursue the truth on your own and self-impose a fair punishment as swiftly as possible.

 Each year, secondary violations are reported to league offices and the NCAA on a daily basis.  Every institution falls victim to these occasional, minor violations.  Compliance offices try to thoroughly investigate the situations that qualify as secondary violations and they work with their league office to self-impose a correspondingly minor punishment.  Secondary violations are rarely covered up or ignored because there is little to fear from reporting them.  It also looks suspicious to the NCAA if your institution is so squeaky-clean that it never reports any violations.

 Once violations occur that cross the threshold from minor to major, many institutions’ compliance offices seem to lose track of the tenets of transparency and diligence.  In Georgia Tech’s case, for example, Demaryius Thomas – a star wide-receiver on the 2009-2010 football team that won the ACC Championship – received $312 worth of clothing from a former Georgia Tech football player who now works for a sports agency.  This receipt of extra benefits constitutes a major violation, but not one that would likely result in huge penalties for the school.  The compliance office reported the violation to the league and the NCAA and the COI sent an investigator to Georgia Tech’s campus.  Unfortunately, this is where Georgia Tech broke away from acceptable protocol in the eyes of the COI.  Before the investigator arrived on campus, Georgia Tech’s athletic director, Dan Radakovich, called the head football coach, Paul Johnson, to alert him that Thomas would be interviewed.  The COI chairman, Dennis Thomas, believes that Radakovich’s actions allowed Thomas the opportunity to prepare answers that ultimately “impeded the enforcement staff investigations and hindered the committee in getting to the truth in this case.”  The prepared answers did not provide enough information at the time to rule Thomas ineligible for any games.  Thomas was cleared at the time, and participated in three more games, including the ACC Championship game and the Orange Bowl.  Eventually, the truth came out about the impermissible benefits that Thomas received and he was retroactively ruled ineligible for those games.  Thus, Georgia Tech’s 2009 ACC Championship and 2010 Orange Bowl appearance has been vacated.  Yet, if Radakovich and the compliance office had simply been transparent and diligent in their efforts to resolve the investigation, many of the subsequent penalties might have been avoided.   

 Georgia Tech’s case displays the dichotomy of what happens when you’re transparent and diligent and what happens when you’re not with regard to how their basketball violations were handled differently than the football violations.  The basketball coaching staff violated NCAA rules when a graduate assistant coach participated in the administration of a youth basketball tournament that Georgia Tech’s campus hosted.  This action is illegal because it allows a coach access to potential recruits outside of permissible recruiting activities.  Here, once the compliance office learned of the violation, they worked with the basketball coaches to create a thorough report.  Georgia Tech self-imposed a reduction in their recruiting days for the summer evaluation period this year.  Furthermore, they reduced the number of official visits for their basketball program for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years.  The COI accepted these penalties for the basketball program but they imposed stiffer penalties for the football program.  The lack of transparency and diligence in the football investigation resulted in a $100,000 fine for the athletic department, the aforementioned vacation of records from the end of the 2009-2010 season, and contributed to the four year probation period that was handed down to Georgia Tech

Violations will occur at every collegiate institution.  Most times, the violations will be secondary and it’s easy for compliance offices to be transparent and diligent in their reports.  If major violations do occur, though, it is essential to understand that stiffer penalties will result if a compliance office tries to hide information or simply conducts a lackluster investigation.  Georgia Tech and even USC learned this the hard way.  Schools like OSU, UNC, Oregon, and Auburn would be wise to learn from their mistakes.  Penalties will be handed down either way, and usually the truth will come out, so it’s better to cooperate fully and mitigate the results.

- Rob

Strict NCAA Bylaws Help Clean Up Men’s Basketball Recruiting Scene

Many fans of collegiate sports gripe about the existence of seemingly trivial bylaws that govern NCAA-sponsored athletics.  At times, fans may be right.  However, rule changes are proposed and adopted every year by representatives of the schools who play under these strict rules.  The NCAA Manual is updated each year and distributed to all members of the correlating division (Division I, Division II, and Division III).  Many rule changes have drastically changed the landscape of recruiting.  As the July recruiting period for basketball is currently in full swing, here is an examination of some largely unknown rules that govern coaches’ actions.

As recently as 15 years ago, there was no limit on the amount of recruiting days a collegiate basketball coaching staff could use.  A recruiting day is incurred whenever a member of the coaching staff makes an off-campus contact or evaluation with a recruit.  If two coaches engage in off-campus recruiting activities on the same calendar day, it counts as two recruiting days.  Currently, each collegiate institution is limited to 130 recruiting days per year.  The recruiting days may only be used during prescribed contact or evaluation periods; they may not be used during quiet or dead periods.

A recruiting calendar is prescribed for each NCAA-sponsored sport.  All institutions in the correlating division are bound by the recruiting calendar.  A contact period indicates a time in which coaches may either make in-person, off-campus contact with a recruit, or an in-person, off-campus evaluation of a recruit.  Evaluation differentiates from contact because it simply involves scouting the recruit, rather than scouting and talking to the recruit.  Thus, during an evaluation period, coaches may only make in-person, off-campus evaluations of recruits.  A quiet period indicates a time in which coaches may not make any off-campus contacts or evaluations, but recruits may visit the institution.  Lastly, a dead period indicates a time in which coaches may not make any in-person, off-campus contacts or evaluations, and no recruits may visit any institutions.

Restrictions are also in place regarding the type of activities that can be scouted for purposes of recruiting days.  In basketball, during the academic year, the restrictions are simple.  A collegiate coach may only make in-person, off-campus contacts or evaluations at regularly scheduled high-school games, tournaments and practices.  During the summer evaluation period, the restrictions change out of necessity. 

Regularly scheduled high school basketball games, tournaments, and practices do not exist right now.  Kids are attending open-gym practices, playing on AAU teams, or playing in high school summer leagues.  The high school summer leagues have scrimmages – similar to seven on seven football passing leagues or American Legion baseball games.  Collegiate institutions also host camps to teach high school basketball players the finer skills of the game.  Simultaneously, the institutions get a close look at how talented a recruit is.  Furthermore, AAU showcases and tournaments take place on local, state, regional, and national levels.  Some former college basketball stars – and current or former NBA stars – host skills academies or camps, as well.  NCAA Bylaw (a)(4) governs the summer events that collegiate coaches are permitted to attend for evaluation purposes only.  All institutional camps are permissible during the summer evaluation period, as well as any non-institutional, organized events that are properly certified by the NCAA.  The non-institutional, organized events that get certified are generally the regional and national AAU tournaments, and some of the skills academies or camps hosted by former college stars – or current or former NBA stars.  Open-gym practices and the high school summer league scrimmages are not permissible to attend.

Hundreds of other recruiting rules exist, but several more are very pertinent to the cleanse of summer basketball recruiting.  First of all, it is important to stress once more that July is an evaluation period only for basketball.  While at the certified events described above, collegiate coaches must sit in designated areas; they must not speak to a recruit or his parents, high school coach, or AAU coach in excess of an unavoidable greeting – they can say “hello,” but nothing more; and, they cannot contact a recruit via text, email, or a phone call until the recruit has traveled home after the event is completely over.  Additionally, no more than three basketball coaches can be actively recruiting off-campus at any one time during the year.  Generally, a coach who has been recruiting off-campus must return to the institution’s campus before heading to another off-campus site.  Due to the vast number of certified summer events and their locations all over the country, a coach may head directly from one off-campus evaluation site to another in July only.  These policies are in place to decrease the overall expenses of travel during recruiting.  It evens the playing field for smaller institutions with more limited budgets than a university from a power conference.

There used to be virtually no restrictions on the number of recruiting days, contact, evaluation, quiet, and dead periods, or the types of events collegiate coaches could attend in order to scout recruits.  Therefore, institutions with bigger budgets, and bigger coaching staffs (before limits were placed on the number of coaches an institution could employ) had an incredible advantage in recruiting.  Especially in basketball, summer events such as pickup games could involve high school recruits facing grown men.  Collegiate institutions that could afford to send coaches to the parks in New York City, for example, could evaluate high school kids face guys that already played collegiate or even professional basketball.  Now, the strict and tedious language in the NCAA Manual has standardized recruiting for all of its constituents.  While those institutions that use to benefit from the insufficiency of recruiting rules in basketball may yearn for the days of the past, the current system has leveled the playing field substantially.

- Rob

Tougher Rule for Academic Eligibility in Football Begins This Year

As preseason football camps begin this week all over the country, coaches and players are attending meetings conducted by their schools’ compliance offices.  These meetings are part of an ongoing process of NCAA rules education.  Compliance personnel discuss issues like random drug testing, improper benefits, social media use, and academic eligibility.  The discussion of academic eligibility includes a new, tougher rule that has gone into effect today.

Until today, academic requirements were the same for student-athletes in all sports.  The general rules require that a student-athlete pass at least six credit hours each semester and at least 18 credit hours each regular academic year in order to remain academically eligible.  The regular academic year only counts the fall and spring semesters (fall, winter, and spring quarters for those institutions that are on the quarter system).  Student-athletes also must pass 24 credit hours before the beginning of their second year (redshirt-freshman or sophomore year); this may include hours earned during summer terms.  Additionally, there is a rule known as the 20-40-60 rule which requires student-athletes to earn 20 percent of their degree after one year, 40 percent after two years, and 60 percent after three years of enrollment at any institution. 

Football players will now operate under slightly different rules.  During the fall semester, student-athletes who play football must now pass at least nine credit hours rather than six.  If anyone fails to do so, he will be ineligible for postseason play (FBS bowl games or FCS playoff games) and the first four games of the following football season.  Previously, if a football player failed to pass six credit hours in the fall, he would have been ineligible for postseason play, but not the first four games of the following season.  There are a few exceptions built in, though.  If a football player fails to pass nine credit hours during the fall semester, but passes 27 credit hours before the beginning of the next fall term (i.e. 18 credit hours in the spring and nine credit hours in the summer), he can regain eligibility for two or four of the games he was supposed to miss the next season.  One time during a student-athlete’s career, he may earn back all four games.  Any subsequent year in which the student-athlete fails to pass nine credit hours in the fall, but passes 27 credit hours prior to the next fall term, he may only regain eligibility for the third and fourth game of the season.

Another factor in the development of this tougher legislation is academic progress.  The NCAA requires every institution to measure retention of its student-athletes as well as the continuing eligibility of its student-athletes.  Student-athletes who remain academically eligible earn a point in each term – fall and spring.  Student-athletes also earn a point each term if they remain enrolled at the same institution, rather than transferring or dropping out.  The points earned for each sport are divided by the total points possible – depending on roster numbers – and then multiplied by 1,000.  The result is known as the Academic Progress Rate (APR).  A perfect score is 1,000; the lowest acceptable score is 925.  Every institution calculates its APR for each of its sports.  Thus, if a particular sport fails to attain a 925 rating, it may be penalized individually. 

Football had the lowest average APR of any Division I sport – 939.7 – in the last measurable cycle.  The new rule is an effort to improve the academic performance of student-athletes who play football.  The Football Academic Working Group – a group of administrators and compliance personnel who seek to improve the academic success of student-athletes who play football – proposed the tougher rule.  It was adopted through the consent of institutions across the country.  The Football Academic Working Group provided data that indicates student-athletes who play football mainly struggle with their performance in the fall term.  Furthermore, data showed that football players who do manage to earn at least nine credit hours during the fall term are much more likely to graduate within five years.  A requirement to pass six credit hours per term theoretically only requires a student-athlete to pass 50 percent of his classes, because it is mandatory to attempt at least 12 credit hours per term to remain a full-time student.  A student-athlete may attempt more than 12 credit hours of course.  However, football players tend to take the minimum (12) during the fall term, due to the physical and psychological demands a football season imposes upon them.  Now, football players must pass 75 percent of their fall classes if they only attempt 12 credit hours.

The new, tougher rule will be interesting to keep tabs on this fall.  Do not be surprised if a few more players are academically ineligible for their teams’ bowl games in December and January.  Some student-athletes may struggle to meet the new requirement, especially this first year in which it is being implemented.  However, once football players are personally affected by this rule, or see their teammates being forced to miss bowl games and the first four games of the following year, hopefully the message will be received.  Once the message is received, more football players should graduate – which will be nice to see.  After all, that is the general purpose behind collegiate athletics – to provide educational opportunities for those individuals lucky enough, talented enough, and dedicated enough to be student-athletes.

- Rob