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The NCAA Committee on Infractions Has Spoken: Florida International University




The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or“  COI or “panel”) recently issued its findings and found that Florida International University (“FIU” or “institution”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. This case involved violations in the FIU women's soccer and softball programs including impermissible inducements and contacts during the NCAA COVID-19 recruiting dead period, as well as unethical conduct and head coach responsibility violations for the head softball coach. 


The panel processed violations for FIU and the head women’s soccer coach through the negotiated resolution ("NR") process in which the parties agreed to the facts, violations, and penalties. The head softball coach challenged the allegations in which she was named. This decision solely related to the head softball coach’s conduct.


Although the panel ultimately classified the underlying impermissible recruiting violations as Level II, the case involves intentional disregard for NCAA legislation and an attempt to exert influence over a student-athlete.  This conducted resulted in Level I violations and a Level I case.


Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 13.02.5.5, 13.2.1, 13.5.1 and 13.7.5 (2020-21)


From August through November 2020, during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period, the head coach had impermissible contacts with three softball prospects. Further, the head coach provided impermissible inducements to two of these softball prospects by arranging on-campus tours when the institution offered no guided tours to any prospective students and prohibited visitors from entering its athletics facilities. COI determined the head coach’s recruiting violations are Level II.


In August 2020, the head coach had two unplanned meetings with a prospect in Panama City Beach, Florida, during which they engaged in dialogue in excess of an exchange of a greeting. In October and November 2020, the head coach arranged for two other prospects to visit campus and receive a tour from a student-athlete. The head coach also dined with the prospect at an off-campus restaurant during her November visit. The head coach admitted the off-campus contact with the first prospect in August 2020 occurred, but asserted that this conduct should not be considered a Level II violation. The head coach denied that she arranged for the other prospects to visit campus. The panel did not find the head coach’s denials credible and concluded that violations of Bylaw 13 occurred.


With regard to permissible recruiting periods, Bylaw 13.02.5.5 defines a “recruiting dead period” as a period of time when it is not permissible to make in-person recruiting contacts or evaluation or to permit official or unofficial visits by prospects. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA established a temporary recruiting dead period that was effective March 13, 2020, through May 31, 2021.


Similarly, Bylaw 13.2.1 generally prohibits institutional staff members from any involvement in providing, arranging, or offering benefits to a prospect that are not expressly permitted by NCAA legislation. Specific prohibitions are set forth in 13.2.1.1. Finally, Bylaw 13.7.5 states that off-campus contact between staff member and a prospect may occur during an unofficial visit within one mile of campus.


The head coach acknowledged that she had two “random interactions” with a prospect while on vacation in Panama City, Florida. Random interactions during impermissible times are not necessarily impermissible so long as the coach immediately disengages. That, however, did not happen here. Instead, the head coach engaged in two separate interactions lasting between five and ten minutes. They spoke about their families and discussed their vacations and beach activities. After the second interaction, the head coach took a picture with the prospect. This conduct exceeded a greeting. As such, the head coach violated Bylaw 13.02.5.5.


The head coach committed additional recruiting violations when she arranged for two other prospects to visit campus and receive tours from a student-athlete, in October and November 2020, respectively. The head coach knowingly engaged with the prospects during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period. When the head coach arranged for the prospects to visit campus, receive guided tours and dined with one prospect off campus, the head coach engaged in impermissible contacts and inducements in violation of Bylaw 13.


The COI has previously concluded that recruiting contact violations constituted Level II violations. See University of Utah (2019) (concluding via summary disposition that Level II violations occurred when the head men’s basketball coach and three coaching staff members made an impermissible recruiting contact with a prospect at his high school during a designated quiet period); Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (2018) (concluding via summary disposition that a Level II violation occurred when a diving coach conducted one diving lesson with two prospects during a dead period); and University of South Carolina, Columbia (2017) (concluding via summary disposition that a Level II violation occurred when an assistant football coach spoke with a prospect about his speed and encouraged him to attend the institution’s football camp, and the contact occurred outside the permissible contact period).

More recently, the COI released Louisiana State University (LSU) (2022) and California State University, Northridge (CSUN) (2022), which involved impermissible recruiting contacts during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period. The COI concluded both cases involved Level II violations and the conduct in those cases aligns with the conduct in this case. See LSU (concluding that Level II violations occurred in the football program when a former assistant coach and former assistant director of recruiting met separately with a prospect during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period and provided the prospect with impermissible recruiting inducements) and CSUN (concluding that Level II violations occurred in the men’s basketball program when the former head coach and two former assistant coaches had impermissible on-and off-campus contacts with prospects during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period and provided those prospects with impermissible recruiting inducements).


Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.3, the COI concluded the impermissible inducements and contact violations are Level II. The COI recognizes that the head coach’s unplanned contacts with the prospect in August 2020 would not typically amount to a Level II violation. However, the COI considered the totality of the head coach’s impermissible recruiting conduct and specifically the intentional violations of the COVID-19 recruiting dead period when reaching its conclusions in this case. Most significantly, the COI considered the head coach’s apparent disregard for NCAA legislation on three separate occasions and intent to violate the bylaws, as evidenced by the head coach instructing the student-athlete to provide false information about her familial relationship to one of the prospects. Considering these facts as a whole, the COI concluded that Level II violations occurred.


Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.01.1 and 10.1 (2020-21)


In November 2020, the head coach violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct when she instructed a student-athlete to provide false or misleading information concerning her familial relation to the prospect. The head coach’s unethical conduct violation is Level I.

In connection with the November 2020 impermissible contact, the head coach instructed a student-athlete to state that she was related to the prospect, despite there being no such relation, if an questioned the prospect’s presence on campus. In two separate interviews, the head coach initially denied that the alleged conduct occurred. In her written response to the NOA, however, the head coach stated the comment was “made in jest and not with an ounce of serious intent”. By admitting she instructed the student-athlete to provide false information, even if it was “in jest,” the head coach acknowledged that the conduct occurred.


In accordance with Bylaw 10.01.1, staff members must act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times. Bylaw 10.1-(c) describes unethical conduct as knowingly furnishing the enforcement staff or institution false or misleading information regarding involvement in or knowledge of matters relevant to a possible violation.


The head coach used her position of authority and attempted to influence a student-athlete to cover up the head coach’s involvement in recruiting violations. Specifically, and knowing that she arranged an impermissible visit, the head coach instructed one of her student-athletes to lie if she was asked why a prospect was on campus. Although the head coach now contends that her comment was made in “jest,” it was not interpreted that way by the student-athlete. The head coach’s attempt to cover up her impermissible recruiting activity was an abuse of her authoritative position as a head coach and failed to align with ethical standards under Bylaw 10.1.


Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.2-(d), attempting to influence others to provide false or misleading information is a presumptive Level I violation. The COI has routinely concluded that institutional staff members who direct others to provide false or misleading information violate ethical conduct legislation engage in Level I unethical conduct. See U.S. Air Force Academy (Air Force) (2023) (concluding that Level I violations occurred when an assistant coach encouraged a prospect to not post on social media about his visit, which occurred during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period); Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) (2019) (concluding that Level I violations occurred when an assistant coach encouraged a student-athlete host to provide false or misleading information); and University of Mississippi (2016) (concluding that Level I violations occurred when institutional staff members personally deleted or instructed a student-athlete to delete relevant information and told the student-athlete to tell a false story). Like in these cases, the panel concluded the unethical conduct violation is Level I.


Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaw 11.1.1.1 (2020-21)


From August through November 2020, the head coach is presumed responsible for the violations detailed above. The head coach cannot rebut her presumed responsibility because she did not demonstrate that she promoted an atmosphere of compliance within the softball program due to her personal involvement in arranging visits during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period, engaging in impermissible contacts, and instructing a student-athlete to provide false or misleading information. Accordingly, a Level I head coach responsibility violation occurred.


The head coach had impermissible contacts with three prospects and provided impermissible inducements when she arranged campus tours for two of the prospects. The head coach also instructed a student athlete to provide false and misleading information. Despite this conduct, the head coach contested that a head coach violation occurred. However, due to the head coach’s personal involvement in these violations, she cannot rebut her presumed responsibility under Bylaw 11.


Pursuant to Bylaw 11.1.1.1, a head coach shall promote an atmosphere of compliance within his or her program and is presumed to be responsible for the actions of those who directly or indirectly report to the head coach. Head coaches can rebut the presumption only by demonstrating that the head coach promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored their staff.


The head coach personally and knowingly committed the violations in this case. Her intentional disregard for NCAA bylaws, including the COVID-19 recruiting dead period, demonstrate that compliance was not a top priority for the head coach. Her conduct falls well short of the membership’s expectations of head coaches under Bylaw 11.1.1.1.

The COI has previously concluded that head coaches cannot rebut their presumption of responsibility when they are personally involved in violations. See University of California, Santa Barbara (2019) (concluding that the head water polo coach and the head track coach could not rebut the presumption of responsibility when they were personally involved in recruiting violations); University of Oregon (2018) (concluding the head women’s basketball coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance because of his involvement in underlying impermissible coaching violations); and Monmouth University (2017) (concluding that the head men’s tennis coach violated head coach responsibility legislation due to his personal involvement in recruiting inducements).


Pursuant to Bylaws 19.1.2-(e) and 19.1.3-(e), the level of a head coach responsibility violation is determined by the level of the underlying violations. Where the underlying violations are both Levels I and II, the highest level sets the level for the head coach responsibility violation. See Missouri State University (2021) (concluding that a Level I head coach responsibility violation occurred as a result of underlying Level I and II violations). Consistent with Bylaw 19.1.2, the panel concluded that a Level I head coach responsibility violation occurred.


Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.1 and 19.2.3 (2021-22)


During interviews on October 7, 2021, and July 20, 2022, the head coach violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct and failed to cooperate when she knowingly provided false or misleading information to the enforcement staff regarding her knowledge of or involvement in possible violations of NCAA legislation. The panel concluded these are Level I violations.


In two separate interviews, the head coach denied knowledge of and involvement in the impermissible inducement and contact violations with the prospects who visited campus in October and November 2020, respectively. Her statements are completely contradicted by the interviews of the prospects and the student-athlete who provided the tours. Moreover, her denials are contradicted by her own response where she now asserts that any comments she made related to the student-athlete’s and prospect’s familial relationship were made in jest. The panel does not find the head coach’s denials credible and viewed her subsequent rationalization in her written response as an admission the conduct occurred. The panel concluded that the head coach’s conduct violated Bylaws 10 and 19.


Bylaw 10.1 prohibits unethical conduct, including knowingly furnishing the NCAA or the individual’s institution false or misleading information concerning an individual’s involvement in or knowledge of matters relevant to a possible violation of an NCAA regulation. Bylaw 19.2.3 obligates all current and former institutional employees to timely participate in interviews and providing complete and truthful responses.


Parties have the opportunity to defend themselves and deny allegations based on the factual record. Here however, two prospects and a student-athlete independently provided credible and consistent testimony during their interviews that confirmed that the head coach arranged for impermissible contacts with and inducements for the prospects and attempted to influence the student-athlete to lie. Given the information developed in the record, the head coach’s denials are not credible. Therefore, the head coach committed an unethical conduct violation and failed to meet her legislated obligation to cooperate.


The COI has consistently concluded that staff members engage in unethical conduct when they knowingly provided false or misleading information about their involvement in violations. Further, it is well established that unethical conduct violations are presumed Level I. See Georgia Tech (concluding that an assistant men’s basketball coach engaged in unethical conduct when he knowingly provided false and misleading information on two occasions about his involvement in recruiting violations); Connecticut (concluding that the head men’s basketball coach engaged in unethical conduct when he knowingly provided false or misleading information about his involvement in recruiting and benefits violations); and Mississippi (concluding the coaches engaged in Level I unethical conduct when they denied their involvement in other violations). As in these cases, the panel concluded the unethical conduct violation is Level I.


Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

Aggravating Factors

Bylaw 19.12.3.2-(a): Multiple Level I violations;

Bylaw 19.12.3.2-(b): Failing or refusing to take all appropriate steps to advance resolution of the matter;

Bylaw 19.12.3.2-(d): Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or wrongful conduct;

Bylaw 19.12.3.2-(f): Conduct or circumstances demonstrating an abuse of a position of trust;

Bylaw 19.12.3.2-(i): Intentional, willful, or blatant disregard for NCAA bylaws; and

Bylaw 19.12.3.2-(l): Other facts warranting a higher penalty range.


Mitigating Factors

Bylaw 19.12.4.2-(e): The absence of prior conclusions of Level I, Level II, or major violations by the involved individual.


Penalties


1. Show-Cause Order: The head coach was directly involved in arranging and engaging in impermissible contacts during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period. Further, the head coach committed multiple instances of unethical conduct and failed to cooperate. Her individual actions demonstrated that she failed to meet her responsibilities as a head coach because she did not demonstrate that she promoted an atmosphere of compliance. Therefore, the head coach shall be subject to a three-year show-cause order from December 6, 2023, through December 5, 2026. In accordance with Bylaw 19.12.6.4 and COI Internal Operating Procedure (IOP) 5-16-1, any institution employing the head coach during the three-year show-cause period shall restrict the head coach from all athletically related activities. Any NCAA member institution employing the head coach during the three-year show-cause period shall abide by the terms of the show-cause order unless it contacts the Office of the Committees on Infractions (OCOI) to make arrangements to show-cause why the terms of the order should not apply. Although each case is unique, this show-cause order is consistent with the three-year show-cause orders prescribed to the coaches in Georgia Tech and Air Force who both committed Level I-Aggravated conduct.


2. Head Coach Restriction: The head coach violated Bylaw 11 head coach responsibility legislation when she failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance. Bylaw 19.12.6.5 and the Figure 19-1 penalty guidelines contemplate head coach suspensions to address head coach responsibility violations. Therefore, should the head coach become employed in an athletically related position at an NCAA member institution during the three-year show-cause period, she shall be suspended from 50 percent of the first season of her employment. Because the show-cause order restricts the head coach from all athletically related activity, the suspension is subsumed within the show-cause order.


The provisions of this suspension require that the head coach not be present in the facility where the contests are played and have no contact or communication with women's softball coaching staff members or student-athletes during the suspension period. The prohibition includes all coaching activities for the period of time that begins at 12:01 a.m. on the day of the contest and ends at 11:59 p.m. that day. During that period, the head coach may not participate in any coaching activities including, but not limited to, team travel, practice, video study, recruiting and team meetings. The results of those contests from which the head coach is suspended shall not count toward the head coach's career coaching record.


If you have any questions, contact Christian Dennie at cdennie@denniefirm.com.





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