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The NCAA Committee on Infractions Has Spoken: Mississippi State University

The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee”) recently issued its findings and found through a negotiated resolution that Mississippi State University (“MSU”) committed major violations of NCAA legislation. On January 19, 2019, an athletics academic advisor at MSU met with a fellow athletics academic advisor who reported a conversation he overheard between two student-athletes. One of the student-athletes complained to his teammate about the difficulty he had with his online general chemistry course. His teammate, in the middle of the conversation, pointed to a then student at the institution and part-time athletics department tutor specializing in chemistry (tutor), who was seated nearby, and suggested that the tutor could complete the course for him for a price. After learning about this conversation, the tutor immediately communicated this information to the associate director of athletics and executive director of academics so she could report it to the athletics compliance staff for investigation. The institution immediately suspended the tutor's employment as a part-time tutor pending investigation. The institution's dean of students' office was also advised and was actively involved in the investigation from that point forward.

The compliance staff reviewed the online general chemistry class roster to identify all student-athletes in the fall of 2018 course and saw that a men's basketball student-athlete, along with several football student-athletes, were enrolled in the course. The institution also pulled internet protocol (IP) addresses and metadata for the enrolled student-athletes' coursework and exams. The IP data showed that certain student-athletes' coursework and exams for the online chemistry course was completed, primarily, from two IP addresses: one on campus and one off-campus. The IP and timestamp data suggested that one individual logged into the student-athletes' online chemistry course accounts and completed exams and/or assignments for the men's basketball student-athlete and 10 football student-athletes, often in discernable, successive patterns. Based upon the IP information, an analysis of relevant dates, times and data showing that the tutor was logged in to the institution's system when course assignments or exams were completed, the institution believed the IP addresses traced back to the tutor.

When the institution met with the tutor and asked her about the type of assistance she provided student-athletes enrolled in the online general chemistry course, the tutor replied that she might have helped with an answer on occasion but did not do anything more substantial. At that point, the institution asked the tutor to provide the IP address(es) she used at her off-campus residence, along with locations where she may have used either institutional Wi-Fi or other Wi-Fi systems. She refused to provide the information and told the institution she planned to seek legal counsel. From that point forward, the tutor declined to participate in the institution's investigation, sit for an NCAA interview or respond to any additional requests for information.

On February 15, 2019, the institution interviewed the men's basketball student-athlete. In his initial interview with the institution, the men's basketball student-athlete denied engaging in academic misconduct with the tutor. Two days after his interview, his counsel notified the institution that he would like to sit for a second interview. On February 19, 2019, the men's basketball student-athlete was interviewed for a second time. He admitted that the tutor offered to complete coursework and exams for his online chemistry course in exchange for cash payments, and that she only did so after he paid her. The institution continued to withhold the student-athlete from competition and compiled additional information on the football student-athletes enrolled in the online chemistry course. The institution contacted the NCAA enforcement staff immediately after the men's basketball student-athlete's interview on February 19, 2019.

On February 25, 2019, the enforcement staff issued a verbal notice of inquiry and on February 26, 2019, the institution and enforcement staff conducted interviews of the 10 football student-athletes enrolled in the course. All 10 football student-athletes were represented by personal legal counsel and all of them acknowledged that the tutor completed academic work in the online chemistry course on their behalf in exchange for cash payments. Most of the student-athletes reported that the tutor would not assist them with assignments/examinations until she received payment. The amount charged by the tutor and the number of assignments/exams she completed varied for the involved student-athletes.

The institution took the involved student-athletes through its academic honor system process and found that all 11 student-athletes violated the institution's honor code. All 11 student-athletes received an F in the course as a result of the misconduct and honor code violation, in addition to other disciplinary and rehabilitative actions taken by the institution's dean of students' office.

The institution declared all 11 student-athletes ineligible and sought NCAA reinstatement.

Both the institution and enforcement staff tried on multiple occasions to engage the tutor and secure her cooperation for an interview. When it became clear that the tutor had requested money in exchange for assisting student-athletes with coursework and that she would not participate in the process, she was dismissed. The enforcement staff considers the tutor to be a non-participating involved individual. As the tutor failed or refused to participate in an interview requested by the enforcement staff, and because she is an involved individual, the hearing panel of the COI may view this failure and refusal as an admission that the alleged violation involving her occurred, pursuant to NCAA Bylaws and Further, the enforcement staff provided the tutor a copy of the allegations involving her on May 23, 2019, to which she failed to respond.

The Committee found that MSU committed the following violations of NCAA legislation:

Violation of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 12.11.1,, and 16.8.1 (2018-19) (Level I)

The institution and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that in the fall semester of the 2018-19 academic year, the tutor committed academic misconduct in an online general chemistry course when she completed multiple assignments, exams and, in some instances nearly the entire course, for 10 football student-athletes and one men's basketball student-athlete in exchange for cash payments. The institution determined that this conduct violated its academic misconduct policy. As a result of the academic misconduct, eight football student-athletes and one men's basketball student-athlete competed and received competition-related expenses while ineligible.

Violation of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.1, 10.1-(a), 19.2.3 and (2018-19) (Level I)

It is uncontested that in March 2019 and continuing to the present, the tutor failed to cooperate with the enforcement staff when she refused to participate in an interview with the institution and enforcement staff to discuss her involvement in alleged academic misconduct that occurred when she was employed at the institution.

Agreed-Upon Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4

Aggravating factors for the Institution

a. A history of Level I, Level II or major violations. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(b).

b. One or more violations caused significant ineligibility or other substantial harm to a student-athlete or prospective student-athlete. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(i).

Mitigating factors for the Institution

a. Prompt self-detection and self-disclosure of the violation(s). NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(a).

b. Prompt acknowledgement of the violation(s), acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures and/or penalties. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(b).

c. Affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(c).

d. An established history of self-reporting Level III or secondary violations. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(d).

e. Implementation of a system of compliance methods designed to ensure rules compliance. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(e).

f. Exemplary cooperation. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(f).

Aggravating factors for the tutor

a. Unethical conduct, failure to cooperate during an investigation. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(e).

b. Violations were premeditated, deliberate or committed after substantial planning. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(f).

c. One or more violations caused significant ineligibility or other substantial harm to a student-athlete or prospective student-athlete. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(i).

d. Conduct intended to generate pecuniary gain for the involved individual. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(l).

e. Intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution and bylaws. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.3-(m).

Mitigating factor for the tutor

a. The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II or major violations. NCAA Bylaw 19.9.4-(h).

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

  1. Public reprimand and censure.

2. Probation: Three years of probation from August 23, 2019, through August 22, 2022.

3. Financial penalty: The institution shall pay a fine of $5,000 plus one percent each of the football and men's basketball budgets to the NCAA. The fine related to the football program will be $165,533.00 and the fine related to the men's basketball program will be $54,014.00.

4. Scholarship reductions: During the 2020-2021 and 2021-22 academic years, the institution shall reduce the annual limit on the number of counters in football by a reduction of two for a maximum of 83. During the 2020-2021 academic year, the institution shall reduce the annual limit on the number of counters in men's basketball by one for a maximum of 12.

5. Recruiting restrictions: During the 2019-2020, 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years in the sports of football and men's basketball, the institution shall restrict recruiting activities as follows:

a. During the 2019-20 academic year, official visits in the sport of football will be limited to 36, a reduction by four from the four-year average of 40 visits. During the 2019-20 and 2020-21 rolling two-year period, official visits in the sport of men's basketball will be limited to 10, a reduction by two from the four-year average of six visits per year.

b. In the sport of football, no unofficial visits will be permitted during one home contest for the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2021-22 academic years. In the sport of men's basketball, no unofficial visits will be permitted during two home contests for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years.

c. During the 2019-20 academic year, football evaluation days will be reduced by two in the fall 2019 and 10 in spring 2020 from the permissible number of evaluation days. In spring 2020, recruiting-person days for men's basketball will be reduced by six from the permissible number of recruiting-person days. Over the past four years, the institution has used the maximum number of permissible evaluation and recruiting-person days.

6. Vacation of records: The institution will vacate all regular season and conference tournament records and participation in which the ineligible student-athletes in this case competed from the time they became ineligible through the time they were reinstated as eligible for competition.

7. Disassociation: The institution shall disassociate the tutor.

8. Show-cause order: The tutor is subject to a 10-year show cause order restricting her from all athletically related duties. The show cause shall run from August 23, 2019, to August 22, 2029.

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