NCAA accepts ULL's self-sanctions in recruiting fraud probe
NEW ORLEANS (AP) The NCAA ruled Tuesday that it largely accepted the Louisiana-Lafayette football program's self-imposed sanctions stemming from an investigation into an ex-assistant coach's effort to arrange fraudulent college entrance exam scores for recruits.
The university investigated the matter itself while cooperating with a parallel NCAA probe and pre-emptively punished itself with a reduction in 11 scholarships spread over three seasons (through 2017-18) , recruiting restrictions and voiding all records from the 2011 season.
Louisiana-Lafayette athletic director Scott Farmer made a point of noting that the NCAA described the university's level of cooperation as ''exemplary'' and chose not to impose a postseason ban on the Ragin' Cajuns.
''We all took a huge sigh of relief that we didn't have a postseason bowl ban,'' Farmer said. ''Let's be honest. That would have been a significant thing, and that made us feel good about all the hard work that we had done'' to cooperate with the NCAA.
Kent State President Emeritus Carol Cartwright, the NCAA's chief hearing officer, complimented ULL's level of cooperation, calling it ''a model'' for other schools engaged in the infractions process.
Still, the NCAA added some penalties beyond what ULL had self-imposed, placing the university on probation for two years through Jan. 11, 2018, assessing a $5,000 fine, adding more recruiting restrictions next season and vacating certain additional results from 2012-14. It was not immediately clear if the vacated results would include the New Orleans Bowl victories in all three of those seasons.
The NCAA stated the university would have to review which games in those seasons involved participation by players found to have been ineligible.
''I don't know exactly how many games that is at this point in time,'' Farmer said. ''Our compliance staff will go through that with the NCAA. It's not the whole season of any of them.''
Former linebackers coach David Saunders, the ex-assistant coach who arranged the fraudulent scores, but who denied wrongdoing and declined to cooperate with investigators, has been placed under an eight-year show-cause order. That means he cannot accept a job with an NCAA-member program without appearing, along with officials from the school attempting to hire him, before the NCAA's infractions committee.
The NCAA also found that Saunders funneled about $6,500 in cash to a student-athlete, first while the student in question was a recruit attending junior college as well as after the student enrolled at ULL. The university has disputed that allegation, but the NCAA stated in its report that the student-athlete told its investigators he'd been given the cash.
Head coach Mark Hudspeth, who debuted as Ragin' Cajuns coach in 2011 and led the team to four straight New Orleans Bowl victories, has not been implicated in wrongdoing. However, the first bowl triumph, which was also ULL's first victory in a bowl game at the top tier of Division I (the Football Bowl Subdivision), is now wiped from the record books.
''While (2011) victories have been vacated, it is impossible to erase the memories,'' Farmer said. ''You can never take that away. That emotion will always be there.''
The NCAA determined Saunders acted on his own and concealed his activities, as ULL had asserted.
''We stand behind the integrity and accomplishments of coach Hudspeth and the other members of the coaching staff,'' Farmer said.
The university has not disputed allegations of test fraud, which entailed Saunders advising recruits to take their ACTs at a specific test center in Wayne County, Mississippi, where he had a relationship with the supervisor administering the test. That supervisor, Ginny Crager, allegedly agreed to change recruits' answers as needed to produce more favorable results.
On Tuesday, Louisiana-Lafayette sued ACT, seeking unspecified damages for the testing company's alleged ''failure to detect improper test administration or exam results at one of its testing sites, failure to timely investigate such improprieties, and failure to notify the NCAA or the University.''
ACT spokesman Edward Colby said his company's policy is to decline comment on pending litigation.
Louisiana-Lafayette has stated that it has worked collaboratively with NCAA enforcement staff from the time allegations first surfaced in December 2013 against Saunders, who was also an assistant recruiting coordinator.
The university also noted that Saunders was fired when ''it became clear'' by October 2014 that violations had occurred. The university stated it immediately withheld student-athletes whose test scores were in question from further participation.
Saunders previously had worked on other coaching staffs, including that of Mississippi. The NCAA declined to discuss whether the findings that Saunders committed fraud while at ULL could lead to probes at other institutions for which he worked.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org