NCAA goes easy on UL football

by Walter Pierce

The governing authority for college sports will place the university on probation for two years, fine it $5,000 and place additional restrictions on the football staff’s recruiting activities for the upcoming season.

Photo by Buddy Delahoussaye

Fans of Ragin’ Cajun football can breathe a sigh of relief after the National Collegiate Athletic Association on Tuesday released its proposed penalties stemming from allegations that a former assistant coach helped a small number of recruits obtain favorable ACT scores as well as funneled more than $6,000 in cash to another favored recruit.

UL self-reported the allegations to the NCAA and acknowledged last October that it was under investigation. Many Cajuns fans, unfamiliar with NCAA rules and penalties — especially those aware of so-called death penalty sanctions handed down to offending universities like Southern Methodist over the years — anticipated the worst. Turns out, it’s not too bad. In fact, according to a statement released by the university today, the penalties handed down by the NCAA are “the lowest level of penalties for Level I violations within the NCAA’s penalty structure.”

Head coach Mark Hudspeth
Photo by Robin May

According to the NCAA’s report into the allegations, the actions by former linebackers coach David Saunders did not give the Ragin’ Cajuns football team a competitive advantage.

In addition to self-imposed penalties the university levied against itself that include vacating wins, reducing scholarships and placing restrictions on recruiting, the NCAA today announced a number of additional penalties:

● A two-year probation period from Jan. 12, 2016, through Jan. 11, 2018.

● An eight-year show-cause order for the former assistant coach from Jan. 12, 2016, through Jan. 11, 2024. If he seeks employment at an NCAA member school, he and the school must appear before the Committee on Infractions.

● A $5,000 fine.

● An additional limitation in the number of official visits to 38 for the 2016-17 season.

● An additional three-week ban on all university-initiated recruiting communication in the football program for the 2016-17 season. The three-week ban should occur during the same three weeks as the university-imposed ban during the 2015-16 season.

● An additional vacation of records for the 2012-2014 seasons in which student-athletes competed while ineligible. The university will identify the games impacted following the release of the public report.

UL officials expressed relief on Tuesday:

“We are pleased that the Committee on Infractions recognized that the university did not have involvement in or knowledge of Level 1 violations and imposed on us the lowest level of penalties,” said Dr. Joe Savoie, UL president. “Further, the Committee recognized our full cooperation and determination to get to the truth surrounding the allegations. UL Lafayette will continue to comply with NCAA standards and remains committed to maintaining a comprehensive rules compliance program.”

As the Associated Press reported when the situation first came to light in October:

UL also has begun operating under self-imposed sanctions which include vacating the 2011 season, placing itself on two years’ probation, a reduction in 11 scholarships spread over three seasons (through 2017-18) and a reduction in recruiting activities.

Head coach Mark Hudspeth, who debuted as the Ragin’ Cajuns coach in 2011 and has led the team to four straight New Orleans Bowl victories, has not been implicated in wrongdoing. However, his maiden bowl victory over San Diego State has now been vacated.

The university states that it “strongly considered” a self-imposed postseason ban this season, but decided that would be “unduly severe to address violations committed by a single individual that were in no way indicative of systematic, program-wide noncompliance with NCAA rules.”

The reductions in recruiting includes cutting periods for off-campus recruiting by a total of 40 days during the current and previous academic years, as well as reduced communications with prospective recruits during a three week period this fall.

Added head coach Mark Hudspeth on Tuesday: “Even though we do not agree with the full findings, we are thankful that this chapter is behind us and we are ready to move on with building a championship program. We are grateful to all of our fans who have supported our program and we look forward to getting back to work in preparation for the 2016 season.”