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The NCAA Committee on Infractions Has Spoken: University of Georgia

The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee”) recently issued its findings and found that the University of Georgia (“UGA”) committed major violations of NCAA legislation. This case involves the head women's and men's swimming and diving coach's provision of an impermissible benefit to a men's student-athlete and that coach's failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance at UGA. The Committee considered the record, including the parties' submissions, presentations and information developed at the October 16, 2014, hearing. The Committee concluded that the head coach provided an impermissible benefit to a student-athlete in his program and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

In this case, UGA and the NCAA enforcement staff substantially agreed that impermissible benefits and head coach responsibility violations occurred during fall 2013. Specifically, they agreed that on the last day of classes of the fall semester the head coach made a special arrangement with a psychology professor, which resulted in an impermissible benefit for the men's student-athlete. The head coach proposed that a pass/fail independent study class could be added to the student-athlete's fall semester schedule. The head coach and the professor agreed to the terms of the course, including that the student-athlete would receive an incomplete grade until such work was completed. The head coach agreed that his actions demonstrated a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance; however, he did not believe that what he did resulted in an impermissible benefit for the student-athlete. To that end, the head coach argued that without the underlying impermissible benefit violation, there could be no violation of NCAA Bylaw, head coach responsibility.

The Committee determined that the case should move forward under a Level II standard and found the following violations of NCAA legislation:

Violations of NCAA Bylaws and

UGA and the NCAA enforcement staff substantially agreed violations occurred as alleged. The head coach substantially agreed with the principle facts surrounding the head coach responsibility allegation, but he disagreed that he provided an extra benefit. The head coach therefore did not agree that there are any facts that constitute a violation of NCAA bylaws. The Committee concluded the facts constitute violations of NCAA Bylaws 11 and 16.

The head coach contests the impermissible benefit allegation because, according to him, the benefit to the freshman student-athlete was the late enrollment in an upper level independent study and not the request. Because the late enrollment was completed pursuant to institutional policy and available to all students, the benefit, if any, was permissible. The Committee disagreed.

As the fall term was ending, the head coach called a psychology professor, whom he had known for a long time, and asked that professor to permit a freshman student-athlete to add an upper-level independent study. The head coach was concerned that the student-athlete would not pass all of his classes and sought to create a "safety net." The head coach and not the student-athlete initiated and created the grade recovery plan. As a result of the head coach's conduct, the student-athlete received a benefit not generally available to the general student body and not authorized by NCAA legislation. The impermissible benefit was the "special arrangement" to ensure the student-athlete's eligibility.

The conduct that led to the "special arrangement" is also identified in NCAA Bylaw head coach responsibility allegation. UGA, the head coach and the NCAA enforcement staff agreed the head coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance as required by that bylaw. However, the head coach asserts that if the panel were to agree with him and conclude that there was no impermissible benefit, then there is no underlying violation to support a conclusion that he failed to promote under NCAA bylaws. The Committee concluded a violation of NCAA Bylaw occurred.

As provided in NCAA Bylaw 11, head coaches share a responsibility for NCAA rules compliance. A head coach should demonstrate a commitment to compliance by fostering regular and ongoing communications with athletics department staff. He or she should maintain constant dialogue with the compliance office to discuss key issues or concerns in a sport program and to ensure program resources. He or she is expected to set the tone for what is and is not acceptable conduct. He or she is expected to lead by example.

The head coach's decision-making with regard to the student-athlete in this case failed to demonstrate such leadership. As the head coach in UGA’s swimming and diving program since 1979, he knew his responsibilities to the program and, moreover, to the student-athletes whom he coached. During coaches meetings he received clear and direct instruction not to contact professors about student-athletes. And yet that is precisely what he did. The head coach contacted the psychology professor multiple times about the independent study course that he (the head coach) requested. In addition to the requests he made of the psychology professor, the head coach also directed the student-athlete to act in a manner that would further the head coach's plan. The head coach acted contrary to institutional policy and contrary to the advice and caution provided by the staff responsible for athletic academic services and athletics eligibility certification. The head coach also failed to consult with the UGA compliance office. Quite simply, he should have allowed the academic and athletics compliance staff to address the student-athlete's situation without his interference.

Because the head coach proposed and acted upon a “special arrangement,” leveraged by his position on campus and/or his relationship with a faculty member, to ensure that a student-athlete was eligible to compete in the upcoming season, the head coach violated NCAA Bylaw 16. The head coach did not look to UGA’s compliance office for any assistance or guidance on this issue. Moreover, his conduct not only violated institutional policy, but was also contrary to the advice provided by athletics department personnel. To that end, the head coach violated NCAA Bylaw 11.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.2 and 19.9.4

Level II violations, representing an institution’s significant breach of conduct, includes one or more violations that provide or are intended to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage or impermissible benefit. Level II violations are more serious than Level III and yet do not rise to the level of Level I. They include systematic violations that do not amount to a lack of institutional control or collective Level III violations.

Aggravating factors were as follows: 1) UGA has a history of Level I, Level II or major violations by the institution, sports program(s) or involved individuals (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(b)); 2) the head coach’s violations were premeditated, deliberate or committed after substantial planning (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(f)); 3) the head coach condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or related wrongful conduct (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(h)); and the head coach’s conduct or circumstances demonstrated an abuse of a position or trust (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(j)).

Mitigating factors were as follows: prompt self-detection and self-disclosure of violation(s) (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(a)); prompt acknowledgment of the violation, acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures and/or penalties (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(b)); affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(c)); and exemplary cooperation (NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(f)).

As a result of the aforementioned violations, the Committee penalized UGA as follows:

1. Public reprimand and censure.

2. UGA shall pay a financial penalty of $5,000.00 to the NCAA.

3. The head coach shall be suspended from 50 percent of regular season competitions during the 2014-15 season for a total of nine regular season competitions. The head coach shall also be restricted from all recruiting duties for the period of one year, reduced, in part, by the institution's period of suspension of the head coach's conduct since April 4, 2014.

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