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Football: NCAA probe – Details show elaborate scheme to alter scores

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, October 12, 2015


Details spelled out in NCAA football recruiting rules violations leveled against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette coupled with the school’s response to the allegations show evidence of an elaborate plan to alter a half-dozen recruits’ ACT scores.

Former Cajuns assistant coach David Saunders, who is at the heart of the allegations, also is accused of having paid $6,500 to a student-athlete who played for UL — about $5,000 for living and educational expenses while he was at an undisclosed junior college, and later a one-time payment of $1,500 for housing expenses.

UL disclosed the charges and its lengthy response, including investigation particulars, on Sunday, three days after The Daily Advertiser filed a public records request.

According to the NCAA’s formal Notice of Allegations, “Saunders executed a complex plan for six then football prospects to take the ACT exam at a testing site located a considerable distance from their hometown, as well as arranged for the ACT supervisor at the site to complete and/or alter the prospects’ answer sheets in such a manner that they would receive fraudulent scores.

“Saunders’ actions,” the allegations further state, “show premeditation, deliberation and/or substantial planning.”

Saunders — also accused of providing “false or misleading” information to the NCAA enforcement staff — has denied all allegations.

According to the NCAA: Saunders “arranged for then football prospective student-athlete (name redacted) to take the (date redacted) ACT at Wayne County High School (Wayne County) in Waynesboro, Mississippi, and also arranged for Ginny Crager, then ACT supervisor at Wayne County, to complete and/or alter (redacted) answer sheet in such a manner that he would receive a fraudulent score."

One recruit, according to the allegations, “conservatively had 108 of 215 possible answers changed."

The NCAA also alleges that “Saunders and Crager exchanged five phone calls within four days prior to, and including, the June 2013 national testing date,” and that “that communication occurred after all three prospective student-athletes named in subparagraph c. had already registered to take the ACT exam at WCHS (which contradicts Saunders’ and Crager’s claims that Saunders would call to check on open seat availability).”

According to the NCAA, “Crager also reported … that Saunders had been to her house once, on Christmas Eve 2013, approximately one week following his interview with the enforcement staff.”

Crager’s name, Saunders’ name and the same test site at Wayne County High in rural Mississippi are tied to each of the six ACT-related accusations.

Five of the six went on to play for the Ragin’ Cajuns, according to UL.

UL concedes that “test sheets were completed and/or altered to affect their scores,” and the university did not “contest that when Saunders sent the students to Wayne County High School (WCHS) for their exams, he did so knowing that they would receive a fraudulent score.”

But UL also said it cannot determine if Saunders “orchestrated Crager’s activities” or if he “was aware of the method/means of execution that she or other individuals at WCHS employed to commit the fraud.”

Crager is a former Wayne County High teacher and is no longer an ACT exam-site administrator, according to UL’s response.

The NCAA allegations notice also said former UL assistant coach Tim Rebowe, now the head coach at Southland Conference-member Nicholls State, has known Saunders “for approximately 20 years” and “has used Saunders’ expertise in the past regarding the initial-eligibility process to help construct plans for academically at-risks prospects to follow to complete their initial-eligibility requirements.”

Rebowe was interviewed by the NCAA, as were Cajuns head coach Mark Hudspeth and recruiting coordinator Reed Stringer. Rebowe recruited one of the student-athletes involved but is not charged with any violation. Hudspeth and Stringer are not alleged to have committed any infractions either.

The NCAA also says that when one recruit “arrived at Wayne County the morning of the exam, he encountered Crager, who indicated she was expecting him” and that “he failed to answer questions on each section of the exam, including approximately (number redacted) questions on the science portion and approximately (redacted) questions on the English portion.”

UL assistant coach David Saunders is shown here giving

UL assistant coach David Saunders is shown here giving instruction to UL defensive back Trevence Patt (33). (Photo: Advertiser file photo)

Moreover, the NCAA says, the recruit “believes something fishy occurred to increase his exam score.”

A different recruit, according to the allegations, told the NCAA that “he guessed on approximately one third of the exam questions,” that he and another recruit “were surprised at their scores,” that “he saw a worker resembling Crager remove his answer sheet from his exam room shortly after the exam ended.”

Yet another recruit, according to the NCAA, “was skeptical as to how he received a qualifying ACT score and stated that Saunders came through for him.”

One recruit, according to the Cajuns’ response to the NCAA, also was given money for gas and a motel room so he could travel to take the ACT in Mississippi, but the name of the person providing that money has been redacted by UL.

UL has self-imposed penalties, including vacating its entire 2011 season and 2011 New Orleans Bowl win, in response to the ACT-related allegations that it acknowledges.

It refutes the alleged $6,500 cash payments, however.

A hearing in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions is scheduled later this year.

While he denies wrongdoing, Saunders did acknowledge in one of his interviews with the NCAA, according to the allegations, “that he has informed prospects who have had difficulty finding an exam site with space available in their hometowns that Wayne County is a site that typically has space available near the date of the exam” and that he “communicates with Crager regarding ACT dates and space availability at Wayne County.”

Attempts to reach Saunders and Rebowe on Monday were not immediately successful.

A spokesman at Pearl River Community College, where Saunders was hired earlier this year as an assistant football coach, did confirm Monday that Saunders was still employed there as of last Friday, but he was not authorized to comment beyond that.

Hudspeth on Monday said he was told not to comment because “everything is still taking place,” and UL athletic director Scott Farmer, citing NCAA restrictions, said that beyond what’s already been disclosed the Cajuns only “will comment on the case when it’s totally concluded.”