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Sep 17, 2002

NCAA Division I infractions appeals committee upholds penalties against University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

Featuring: Robert T. Cunningham

tuscaloosanews.com 

INDIANAPOLIS---The NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee upheld all findings and penalties involving the football program at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. 

The penalties, which were issued February 1, 2002, by the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions, were imposed primarily as the result of recruiting inducements by three representatives of the university's athletics interests that included payments of large sums of cash to a prospective student-athlete and his family, and to another prospect's high school football coach. 

The institution appealed the findings regarding recruiting inducements, impermissible recruiting contacts and impermissible benefits. Specifically, the institution argued that the findings of those violations should be set aside because they are clearly contrary to the evidence, and that a procedural error affected the reliability of the information on which the findings were based. 

The institution also appealed six of the eight penalties that were imposed on it by the Committee on Infractions as a result of the violations. The institution argued that those penalties were excessive and inappropriate. Those penalties include initial and overall grant-in-aid reductions in the sport of football, a two-year postseason competition ban in football, and a five-year probation period. The institution was also required to show cause to the Division I Committee on Infractions why it should not be penalized further if it fails to permanently disassociate the three representatives from its athletics program. 

In upholding the findings and the penalties, the Appeals Committee said that there was evidence supporting the findings of violations and that the penalties were not excessive or inappropriate considering the university's status as a repeat violator, and the number, nature and seriousness of the violations. 

The violations in this case involved recruiting and provision of extra benefits to enrolled student-athletes. One violation involved the provision of $20,000 in cash, lodging and entertainment to a prospective student-athlete and his parents by two athletics representatives. The first installment of $10,000 was provided to the prospect at his home in the fall of 1995. It came in the form of $100 bills inside a grocery bag. 

The second installment was provided to the prospect's father in January 1996 when he received a brown envelope containing $10,000 in cash, also in $100 bills. One of the athletics representatives delivered the cash on both occasions. The prospect later signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Alabama, but failed to meet academic standards required to be eligible to compete in his freshman season. 

A second violation involved the offer and provision of a substantial amount of cash to a high school coach to assure that a high school prospect from Memphis, Tennessee, signed a National Letter of Intent in February 2000 and enrolled at the university. The high school coach and one of his assistants developed a scheme to market the prospective student-athlete to university football programs for $100,000 cash and a sport utility vehicle for each coach. 

The high school coach subsequently solicited payments from NCAA member institutions interested in recruiting the young man. Coaches from five institutions confirmed the solicitations by the high school coach. 

Another violation occurred during the summer of 1999, when an athletics representative provided a student-athlete with the use of an automobile. The student-athlete used the vehicle cost-free from June until August when it was repossessed after he had announced he would transfer from Alabama to another university. 

The Infractions Committee report also outlined other violations that involved an assistant coach accepting loans from one athletics representatives. Those included violation of honesty standards, violation of employment and salary controls, and failure to cooperate. 

Other findings of violations, including several secondary violations, are discussed in the public report, which can be found at www.ncaa.org. 
In arguing its case on appeal, the university contended that the violations that occurred in 1995-96 and 1996-97 were barred by the statute of limitations. The Appeals Committee concluded that the violations were not barred by the statute of limitations based on Bylaw 32.5.2(b), which addresses situations that begin before, and continue into, the four-year period prior to issuance of the letter of preliminary inquiry. The continuing nature of this conduct brought it within the four-year statute of limitations. 

The university also challenged the Infractions Committee's reliance on information from a confidential source in finding the 1995-96 and 1996-97 recruiting violations. First, the Appeals Committee concluded that there was ample evidence supporting the findings, even if the Infractions Committee had not relied on the information from the confidential source. Second, the Appeals Committee said that, although the NCAA enforcement staff did use evidence from a confidential source, the identity of this source was disclosed to the institution and it had an opportunity to interview the individual and judge the individual's credibility. The institution agreed to allow the enforcement staff to use the evidence and submitted a letter waiving its rights. The institution claimed the waiver related only to allegations other than those involved in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 recruiting violations. The Appeals Committee concluded that if an institution waives its rights and does so on a limited or conditional basis, it must articulate those conditions in its waiver. There was no evidence that the institution did so; thus, there was no procedural error. 

With regard to the institution's claim that the two-year ban on postseason competition in football was inappropriate, the institution contended that the conduct of its athletics representatives should not result in an institutional penalty without a showing of fault by the institution. 

The Appeals Committee report said that "because the violations in this case were numerous and particularly egregious, we conclude that the imposition of such a penalty is appropriate under the facts of the case." The Appeals Committee agreed with the Infractions Committee that in this case, the athletics representatives were "not typical representatives" due to their "favored access and 'insider status'" and that this favored access and insider status created "greater university responsibility for any misconduct in which they engage." 

Finally, with regard to whether the penalties are excessive compared to the penalties imposed in other cases involving repeat violators, the Appeals Committee noted that consistency in penalties so that comparable cases receive comparable penalties is a factor to consider in determining whether a penalty is excessive or inappropriate. They recognized that it is difficult to meaningfully compare cases because there are so many disparate variables in the cases. 
"In this case, the Committee on Infractions carefully considered the nature, number and seriousness of the violations, the conduct and motives of those involved in the violations, the corrective actions taken by the institution, the institution's exemplary cooperation and its repeat violator status," the appeals report noted. 

The appeals report noted that the Committee on Infractions compared this case with the only case in which the death penalty was imposed and appropriately distinguished this case from that one. In the hearing on appeal, it adequately demonstrated the consistency of the result in this case with other recent cases. 

The members of the Division I Infractions Appeals Committee who heard the case are: Terry Don Phillips, chair, Clemson University; Noel Ragsdale, University of Southern California; Allan Ryan Jr., Harvard University; and Robert Stein, American Bar Association.

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