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Syracuse did not control athletics; basketball coach failed to monitor

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Over the course of a decade, Syracuse University did not control and monitor its athletics programs, and its head men’s basketball coach failed to monitor his program, according to a decision issued by a Division I Committee on Infractions panel.

Syracuse discovered and self-reported 10 violations in this case, which primarily involved men’s basketball but also football. The self-reported violations, dating back to 2001, include academic misconduct, extra benefits, the failure to follow its drug testing policy and impermissible booster activity. The other violations found included impermissible academic assistance and services, the head basketball coach’s failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff, and the school’s lack of control over its athletics program.

Penalties in this case, not including those self-imposed by the school, include five years of probation; financial penalties; reduction of three men’s basketball scholarships per year for four years; vacation of wins in which ineligible students participated; a nine conference game suspension for the head basketball coach; and men’s basketball recruiting restrictions for two years. Additionally, the panel accepted the school’s one-year postseason ban in men’s basketball it self-imposed after the NCAA hearing, among other measures outlined in the public decision.

From 2001-02 through 2011-12, the school failed to exercise proper control over the administration of its athletics program and used deficient monitoring systems, which allowed violations to occur involving academics, compliance with its own drug testing policy as well as staff and student relationships with a booster. Students and staff committed violations freely or did not know that their conduct violated NCAA rules. Many of the violations were not detected for years. Staff members did not ask and ensure that relationships and activities with the booster met NCAA requirements. In at least one instance, a staff member did not report potential academic violations due to concern of retaliation.

During the 10-year period of violations, the head basketball coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program and did not monitor the activities of those who reported to him as they related to academics and booster involvement. Although the head basketball coach cited NCAA rules meetings with compliance staff and other initiatives, he operated under assumptions and did not follow up with his staff and students to ensure compliance. Many of the violations occurred in the program and involved his students and staff. Additionally, many of the academic violations stemmed from his director of basketball operations, who the head basketball coach handpicked to address academic matters in the program. 

From 2005 through 2007, a part-time tutor and three football students violated ethical conduct rules by engaging in academic misconduct. The tutor certified that the students completed the required number of hours for an internship and gave the professor information about the type of activities performed by the students when he had limited knowledge of activities completed. The students received academic credit for misrepresented work.

In January 2012, the director of basketball operations and a men’s basketball receptionist violated ethical conduct rules when working to restore the eligibility of a men’s basketball student. The two staff members completed coursework for the student after academics and athletics staff met to discuss potential options for the academically ineligible student. The improper academic assistance occurred in 2012 when the school was under investigation for other potential violations and after the NCAA denied an eligibility wavier for the student.

In its decision, the committee specifically addressed its concern about academic integrity.

“Improper institutional involvement and influence in a student’s academic work in order to gain or maintain eligibility is a violation of NCAA rules and a violation of the most fundamental core values of the NCAA and higher education,” the committee wrote. “The behavior in this case, which placed the desire to achieve success on the basketball court over academic integrity, demonstrated clearly misplaced institutional priorities.”

From 2010 through 2012, a support services mentor, who would later become the receptionist involved in the 2012 academic misconduct, and a support services tutor provided impermissible academic assistance to three men’s basketball students. The mentor and tutor made revisions, created or wrote assignments for the basketball students. Although the school determined academic misconduct did not occur, the panel noted revising or writing academic coursework for students was not a part of, or the intent of, the student-athlete support services provided by the school and exceeded the type of support generally available through the program. In January, the Division I Legislative Council determined that schools have the authority to determine whether academic misconduct occurred, however, traditional extra benefit rules still apply.

From 2001 to early 2009, the school did not follow its own written policies and procedures for students who tested positive for banned substances. NCAA rules require that if schools have a drug testing policy in place, it must include substances on the banned list and the school must follow its policy. Syracuse had a written policy; however, the head basketball coach and athletics director admitted they did not follow the policy. The athletics director said the department followed an “unwritten policy” because the written policy was confusing. As a result, basketball students who tested positive on more than one occasion were not withheld from practice and games, as the written policy directed. 

A booster developed relationships with men’s basketball and football students and members of the men’s basketball staff. In some instances, the basketball staff encouraged students to develop relationships with the booster, which resulted in rule violations. The booster provided more than $8,000 in cash to three football and two men’s basketball students for volunteering at the YMCA. Additionally, the booster gave money to basketball staff members for appearances or assistance at YMCA events. The staff members did not report the payments to the school as outside income or supplemental pay, as NCAA rules require. The compensation included a free membership to the Syracuse YMCA for a year and a half, cash payments for working events and one month’s rent for one staff member.

The committee noted the timing of this case, as well, adding that numerous issues outlined in the decision delayed the final resolution. “A key indicator of an effective process is timely resolution, which did not occur in this case,” the committee wrote.

In its decision, the panel noted that the duration and nature of violations in this case required penalties beyond what the school self-imposed. Because the violations straddled the implementation of the new penalty structure applied in August 2013, the panel used the former, more lenient penalty structure.

Penalties and measures prescribed by the panel are below:

  • Five years of probation from March 6, 2015 through March 5, 2020.
  • Vacation of all wins in which ineligible men’s basketball students played in 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2010-11 and 2011-12 and ineligible football students played in 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07. The public decision contains additional details.
  • Fine of $500 per contest played by ineligible students.
  • The school must return to the NCAA all funds it has received to date through the former Big East Conference revenue sharing for its appearances in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
  • Suspension of the head basketball coach from the first nine conference games of 2015-16.
  • Reduction of men’s basketball scholarships by three for the 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years. If the school has already executed scholarship offers for the 2015-16 year, the school may begin the four-year penalty with the 2016-17 year.
  • Reduction in the number of permissible off-campus recruiters from four to two during June 1, 2015 through May 31, 2017.
  • The panel also accepted the school’s self-imposed postseason ban for the 2014-15 season, but noted that self-imposition of penalties after the conclusion of infractions hearings does not influence the outcome.
  • Additional self-imposed penalties can be found in the public decision.

Members of the Committee on Infractions are from NCAA membership and members of the public. The members of the panel who reviewed this case are Michael Adams, president emeritus of the University of Georgia; Britton Banowsky, chief hearing officer, commissioner of Conference USA; Thomas Hill, senior vice president for student affairs at Iowa State University; Roscoe C. Howard, Jr., attorney; Joel Maturi, former University of Minnesota athletics director; and Greg Sankey, chair of the Committee on Infractions, executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer for the Southeastern Conference.

Timeline of the Syracuse infractions case

2001
  • Violations begin.
2007
  • March: Local YMCA notified school that athletes and coaches received payments from YMCA employees. Former chancellor engages counsel to investigate further.
2010
  • October: Syracuse submitted self-report of violations to the NCAA.
2011
  • September: NCAA enforcement staff issued notice of allegations to school and part-time football tutor, containing 11 allegations.
  • December: Enforcement staff obtains new information relating to the school.
2012
  • January: NCAA enforcement staff notified Committee on Infractions of need for further investigation.
  • March: Enforcement staff notified school it would investigate academic-related issues.
2013
  • Investigation continues.
  • December: Syracuse submitted second self-report of potential violations to the NCAA.
2014
  • January: Syracuse submitted third self-report to the NCAA, withdrawing previously self-reported information.
  • May 6: NCAA enforcement staff issued amended notice of allegations based on the revised self-report to Syracuse and involved individuals.
  • July: Director of basketball operations and student-athlete support services mentor notified the Committee on Infractions that they will not participate in hearing or submit responses to notice of allegations.
  • August: Syracuse head basketball coach and part-time football tutor submitted responses to the amended notice of allegations.
  • Sep. 25 and Oct. 7: Academic coordinator, who had previously declined to participate in the investigation earlier, requested to participate in the hearing and agreed to be interviewed.
  • Oct. 14: Enforcement staff interviewed academic coordinator.
  • Oct. 30-31: Committee on Infractions panel conducted hearing with Syracuse, involved individuals and the enforcement staff.
  • Nov. 6: Committee on Infractions panel submitted interpretive request to NCAA academic and membership affairs staff about extra benefits.
  • Nov. 12: Syracuse appealed response to interpretive request regarding the use of extra benefits rules to academics from NCAA Academic and Membership Affairs staff to Legislative Review and Interpretations Committee.
  • Dec. 4: Legislative Review and Interpretations Committee affirmed NCAA staff determination. Syracuse appealed the decision to the Division I Legislative Council.
2015
  • Jan. 8: Division I Legislative Council supported Legislative Review and Interpretations Committee decision.
  • Jan. 23: Panel asked the school for information that was requested in the notice of allegations but not previously provided in the school’s response.
  • Jan. 30: Syracuse submitted the requested information and included a self-imposed penalty not previously identified.
  • March 6: COI panel issued decision.