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NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee: Southern Methodist University (Former Head Golf Coach

On September 29, 2015, the Committee on Infractions (“COI”) issued its decision involving infractions committed by Southern Methodist University (“SMU” or “Institution”), in which the COI found violations of NCAA legislation in the men’s golf program. The former head golf coach (“Head Coach”) appealed COI’s findings and penalties as they related to him.

In his written appeal, the Head Coach asserted COI’s findings of impermissible recruiting inducements and unethical conduct were clearly contrary to the evidence presented to the panel; and that the imposition of the five-year show cause order was an abuse of discretion.

In reviewing this case, the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee (“Committee”) may overturn factual findings and conclusions that one or more violations occurred only if:

a. The hearing panel’s finding clearly is contrary to the evidence presented to the panel;

b. The facts found by the hearing panel do not constitute a violation of the NCAA constitution and bylaws; or

c. There was a procedural error and but for the error, the hearing panel would not have made the finding or conclusion. [Bylaw]

“A showing that there was some information that might have supported a contrary result will not be sufficient to warrant setting aside a finding nor will a showing that such information might have outweighed the information on which the committee based a finding. The Infractions Appeals Committee . . . will set aside a finding only on a showing that information that might have supported a contrary result clearly outweighed the information on which the Committee on Infractions based the finding.” (University of Mississippi Infractions Appeals Committee Public Report, May 1, 1995, Page No. 10)

COI determines the credibility of the evidence.

Head Coach offered two primary arguments in his appeal of factual findings and conclusions, with both made in support of an overarching conclusion that COI’s conclusion that the violations in connection with Head Coach were Level I (aggravated) – the underlying recruiting violations were improperly classified as Level I; and the Head Coach did not provide false or misleading information during his initial interview with enforcement when he denied having knowledge of a representative’s contacts with golf prospects on behalf of the Institution, but rather answered truthfully based on his recollection at the time.

Committee, based on a review of the record before it, finds neither of these arguments persuasive in meeting the heavy burden of showing that the hearing panel reached a finding or conclusion clearly contrary to the evidence. While it may be argued that a different conclusion could have been reached in each instance or that another hearing panel may have weighed credibility issues differently, that is not the standard the Head Coach must meet.

Regarding the aggregation of violations, there is sufficient evidence that COI took the Level II violations presented in men’s golf, on their own showing an intent to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage, and aggregated them into a Level I violation where the record clearly shows that in combination a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage was provided.

Additionally, there is sufficient evidence in the record for the hearing panel to reach a determination of unethical conduct in light of the number and the nature of the specific correspondence involved and the coach's capacity in relation to retaining general recruit information broadly.

A penalty prescribed by COI, including determinations regarding the existence and weighing of any aggravating or mitigating factors, shall not be set aside on appeal except on a showing by the appealing party that the hearing panel abused its discretion. [Bylaw]

As we stated in the Alabama State University case:

“…we conclude that an abuse of discretion in the imposition of a penalty occurs if the penalty: (1) was not based on a correct legal standard or was based on a misapprehension of the underlying substantive legal principles; (2) was based on a clearly erroneous factual finding; (3) failed to consider and weigh material factors; (4) was based on a clear error of judgment, such that the imposition was arbitrary, capricious, or irrational; or (5) was based in significant part on one or more irrelevant or improper factors.” [Alabama State University, Public Infractions Appeals Committee Report, June 30, 2009, Page No. 23]

Head Coach’s primary argument in relation to the penalty is that it is inconsistent with case precedent. However, having found sufficient evidence in the record to support the findings and conclusions in regard to Head Coach, the argument that the application of the current penalty structure is not consistent with application of show cause orders under the previous penalty structure is misplaced in determining a current abuse of discretion. Even in instances where the hearing panel may impose a penalty on the higher end of the spectrum available to it, the Committee was hesitant to delineate any penalty within the appropriate matrix options as an abuse of discretion absent a clearly arbitrary imposition in light of consistent prior application to the contrary. Here, where the penalty imposed is actually the lowest of those options, there is no evidence of an abuse of discretion.

Accordingly, the Committee upheld the appealed penalties as it pertains to the Head Coach.

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