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Athletics: NCAA accuses UL of major recruiting violations

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, October 11, 2015


Scroll to the bottom of THIS story to read the notice of allegations and UL’s response


The NCAA has accused the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football program of major rules violations, the school disclosed on Sunday following a public records request made by The Daily Advertiser on Thursday.

On Aug. 22 the Ragin’ Cajuns delivered a 78-page response to the Notice of Allegations that came May 22 from the NCAA, the school said in a news release.

The NCAA specifically accuses former assistant football coach David Saunders of wrongdoing related to manipulation of ACT scores and cash payments to one recruit.  The matter is considered a “Severe Breach of Conduct (Level 1)” by the NCAA.

UL has acknowledged the ACT-related infractions for at least five of six student-athletes involved, but it refutes some of the language used by investigators and denies that any cash exchanged hands.

The Cajuns already have self-imposed various penalties, including vacating its entire 2011 season, which included nine wins and a New Orleans Bowl win over San Diego State.

Other self-imposed actions include but are not limited to:

  • terminating Saunders;
  • a two-year probation period;
  • reducing initial football grants-in-aid (scholarships) by three in 2016-17 and three more in 2017-18;
  • reducing total grants-in-aid by five in 2015-16, by three in 2016-17 and by three in 2017-18;
  • reducing off-campus recruiting by 40 days in 2015-16 and ’16-17;
  • reducing official visits by recruits to 44 in 2014-15 and 38 in 2015-16; and
  • withholding unnamed players from competition.

UL said in its response to the NCAA that the school also considered imposing a postseason ban for 2015, but they ultimately opted against that.

According to UL, “NCAA regulations restrict a university from making disclosures about a case until its conclusion,” but the university released the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations and UL’s response following “a request for public records.”

Some of the allegations are related to an academic eligibility issue involving the standardized test scores of multiple recruits signed by the Cajuns over the past few years, all after Mark Hudspeth took over as head coach following the 2010 season.

“We take the allegations very seriously and have fully cooperated with the investigation,” UL athletic director Scott Farmer said in a statement released by the school. “We’ve been committed to finding the truth as much as the NCAA.”

“Our university strives to comply with NCAA standards and maintains a comprehensive rules compliance program,” UL president Joseph Savoie added. “We do not condone misconduct and take any suggestion of wrongdoing seriously.”
   Saunders is accused of directing six recruits on three occasions starting in February 2011 to a specific ACT testing center at Wayne County High in Mississippi, and of arranging for then-Wayne County High ACT supervisor Ginny Crager to complete and/or alter answers to improve test scoring.

Saunders has known Crager since “around 2005,” according to the NCAA.

The ex-Cajuns coach also is accused of providing a then-prospective student-athlete who later played for UL with cash to fund living and educational expenses while at a two-year college, including multiple payments totaling $5,000 in the spring and summer of 2012, and later another $1,500.

Saunders further is alleged to have not fully cooperated with NCAA enforcement staff. He did interview twice with NCAA investigators, but declined a third meeting following his termination and declined to turn over cellphone records.

Saunders, according to the NCAA, denies making any cash payments, denies arranging for the six to take their tests at Wayne County High and denies engaging in fraudulence or misconduct with the ACTs.

UL’s response to the NCAA, in part, is that it “agrees with the majority of the substantive allegation relating to Saunders’ involvement in ACT exam fraud … as well as the accompanying unethical conduct charges related to his responses concerning the violations and conduct during the investigation.”

John McElwain, a spokesman for the Sun Belt Conference, to which UL belongs, said Sunday night “the university has kept us informed regarding the investigation.”

Hudspeth declined comment on Thursday and on Sunday he did not immediately respond to a second request for comment. Farmer also has declined comment beyond his prepared statement.

UL is not identifying the student-athletes involved, and there is no indication the players involved did not have any prior knowledge of wrongdoing — although some later admitted suspicions about their scores interviews with NCAA investigators, according to the documents released by the university.

One current Cajun, would-be starting cornerback Simeon Thomas, did not play all of last season, in part because of what UL said at the time was an academic eligibility issue.

Thomas has not played this season, either, while awaiting academic eligibility clearance.

In response to Daily Advertiser inquiries prior to UL’s disclosure, Hudspeth and Cajuns recruiting coordinator Reed Stringer have denied any knowledge of alleged misconduct..

Hudspeth, Stringer and former UL assistant coach/current Nicholls State head coach Tim Rebowe were interviewed as part of the NCAA investigation, and fully cooperated, according to the statement released by the university.

Rebowe, according to the NCAA’s allegations, recruited one of the student-athletes involved. But neither he nor Huspeth or Stringer, have beencharged with any wrongdoing.

Saunders is the only coach who has left leave the program during a season in the Hudspeth era.

He joined the staff in time for the 2011 season and most recently coached outside linebackers last year. He was hired as an assistant coach in August by Pearl River Community College in Mississippi.

The Cajuns originally announced that Saunders had resigned his post at UL for “personal reasons” in early November, but documents show he was terminated Oct. 30.

UL representatives, including Farmer and Hudspeth, are scheduled to appear later this year at a confidential, closed-to-the-public hearing in accordance with NCAA procedure.

Some months later, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions will publicly issue its decision on the matter.
   Saunders would face a show-cause penalty from the NCAA, which amounts to a fixed time administrative punishment, if he does not attend the hearing.

Because of the timetable involved, it seems unlikely UL would face a postseason ban this season.

Possible sanctions, however, include but not are limited to a further reduction in scholarships, further recruiting restrictions, future bowl ban and/or a forfeiture of additional victories in games in which the involved players took part.