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Football: UL questions Saunders’ Ole Miss activities

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, October 13, 2015


David Saunders, the former Ragin’ Cajuns assistant football coach who, according to NCAA allegations, committed major recruiting violations at UL, may have known of or been involved in NCAA rules violations while he was employed by Ole Miss, UL’s August response to a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA shows.

UL disclosed the NCAA’s charges and its response Sunday, three days after a public records request by The Daily Advertiser.

The NCAA alleges Saunders arranged for six Cajun recruits, five of whom later played at UL, to take their ACT exams at the same test center, Wayne County High School (WCHS) in Mississippi.

There, someone monitoring the tests allegedly helped to improve the scores.

UL says in  its response that, “Based on the investigation, the University learned that other prospective athletes recruited by Ole Miss during Saunders’ tenure at that institution also took ACT exams at WCHS that resulted in questionable scores.”

As part of its case to the NCAA that it should not receive any penalties harsher than already self-imposed ones including vacating its entire  2011 season and a reduction in football scholarships, UL also states, “Certainly, had the University known of Saunders’ prior activity involving potential test fraud, it would not have hired him in January 2011.”

UL further states that during the course of the investigation it “learned that prior to its involvement in this case, Ole Miss requested information from ACT concerning student-athletes recruited to that institution (and coinciding with Saunders’ employment at Ole Miss).”

According to a $250,000 breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by Saunders against Ole Miss in 2011 and posted online that year by The (Jackson, Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger, Saunders is self-described as “a career football coach who specializes in recruiting, alumni relations, and in assisting student athletes with learning disabilities in meeting academic eligibility requirements.”

According to UL’s 78-page response to the NCAA, at least one member of the NCAA’s enforcement staff “and legal counsel for Ole Miss” interviewed Saunders and an unnamed student-athlete on Dec. 16, 2013, “concerning events that occurred while Saunders was employed by Ole Miss (or immediately thereafter) and (name redacted) was being recruited by that institution.”

Jessica Leger, UL’s associate director of athletics for academics and compliance, arranged and attended the interview of part of the Cajuns’ own in-house investigation.

According to the UL response, “Through the course of those interviews, it became apparent to Leger that the enforcement staff was testing information that Saunders knew of, or had been involved in, NCAA rules violations of an academic nature while employed at Ole Miss.”

The NCAA further alleges Saunders paid one ex-Cajun $6,500, including approximately $5,000 while he was at a junior college and another $1,500 for housing expenses paid during a supposed parking-lot exchange on the UL campus.

According to the UL response, which questions the veracity of that allegation, the unnamed ex-Cajun “first mentioned the purported impermissible cash payments during a four and a half minute rant that began with the reasons he was ‘pissed at Coach Saunders’ for ‘screwing him over.’ ”

The UL response identifies that student-athlete as someone who previously was enrolled elsewhere, then “took courses to complete his associate’s degree,” then enrolled at UL, where he “participated in practice and competition until approximately the third game of the (year redacted) season.”

Only one recent former Cajun began his career at Ole Miss, played at a junior college and then transferred to UL, only to leave early in a season.

Delvin Jones, a highly hyped defensive end/outside linebacker from Miami Palmetto High in Florida, played two games for the Rebels as a true freshman in 2010, against Fresno State and Kentucky.

He was dismissed by Ole Miss for disciplinary reasons in the spring of 2011, played in the fall of 2011 at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, then transferred to UL, where according to Cajun defensive statistics from the 2012 season he had seven tackles in two games.

Saunders has denied all allegations, but did not immediately respond to a request from comment made through his current employer, Pearl River Community College in Mississippi.

UL has acknowledged irregularities with the ACT exams, but denies the cash payment allegation.

An Ole Miss spokesman did not immediately respond to comment for this story requested Monday.

Saunders, according to UL, was hired by the university on Jan. 3, 2011, and was terminated Oct. 30, 2014, after allegedly declining further cooperation in the matter.

According to his bio in UL’s 2011 Media Guide, he is a former assistant coach at schools including Jacksonville State, Georgia Southern, Nicholls State, Arkansas State, Baylor and Ole Miss and a former head coach at Millsaps College in Mississippi who “established an acclaimed recruiting program” during his first of three employment stints at Ole Miss.

In his last job at the SEC school, he was an administrative operations coordinator with the Ole Miss football staff.

According to the UL bio, he was recruiting coordinator at three programs including Arkansas State in 1996-97 and Ole Miss from 1998-2002.

UL’s response to the NCAA more specifically says he was “employed in noncoaching, recruiting and high school/community college relations positions” at Ole Miss from 1998-2002.

He also was an on-campus recruiting coordinator for Tennessee during its 1998 national-championship season, coached Georgia Southern’s defensive line when it won the 1990 NCAA Division 1-AA national championship and coached Ole Miss linebackers in 2006.

In February 2014, according to UL’s response, the NCAA enforcement staff, outside counsel and counsel for Ole Miss “conducted an interview with Ginny Crager, the (now former) ACT test administrator for Wayne County High School (WCHS) in Waynesboro, Mississippi, who Saunders had identified as his contact at WCHS.”

According to UL’s NCAA response, “Saunders and Crager reported that they met through” an unidentified student-athlete who had attended Wayne County High and who “was recruited by Ole Miss when Saunders was serving as an assistant coach in 2006.”