The NCAA banned the Texas Southern football and men’s basketball teams from the postseason Tuesday, saying it came close to levying the so-called ”death penalty” against the school for repeated rules violations and for lying about imposing sanctions on its own.
The Division I Infractions Committee said it found a lack of institutional control and outlined problems spanning 13 sports over a seven-year period, including booster-related recruiting violations, academic improprieties, the use of ineligible athletes and exceeding scholarship limits. The basketball team, currently coached by former Indiana coach Mike Davis, was banned from the 2012-13 postseason and the football team in both 2013 and 2014.
Other penalties include five years of probation, scholarship limitations in football and basketball, and the vacating of all team records from 2006-10 in all sports, as well as the 2010-11 records for football and women’s soccer. In 2010, Texas Southern won its first Southwestern Athletic Conference football championship since 1968.
The school released a statement acknowledging the sanctions and saying it agreed with them.
”It has taken the NCAA process to learn the things that we were doing wrong,” athletics director Charles McClelland said. ”If we had not gone through this process, we possibly could have made the same mistakes again. We concentrated on taking the breath out of these issues and now we’re exhibiting excellence in the process.”
The NCAA said the university allowed a total of 129 student-athletes to compete and receive financial aid and travel expenses when they were ineligible. The majority of these student-athletes had not met progress toward degree or transfer requirements, the report said.
The committee also deemed Texas Southern a ”double repeat violator,” because the athletics program has either been on probation or had violations occurring on campus, or both, for 16 of the past 20 years. The school had said in the past that it was self-imposing sanctions, but the committee found that it had not – a factor in the severity of the new sanctions.
”That’s a unique circumstance,” said Greg Sankey, a member of the infractions committee and the chief operating officer of the Southeastern Conference. ”That may be the most notable piece of the institution’s past circumstances.”
The SWAC does not send its teams to the FCS football playoffs, but it does have a conference championship game and in the past teams that have been banned from postseason play by the NCAA were not allowed to compete in the league title game.
The NCAA levied heavy sanctions on Texas Southern’s softball and tennis programs in 2008. The softball program was placed on four years of probation and was banned from postseason play in 2009. The men’s and women’s tennis programs were disbanded in the spring of 2007.
Texas Southern fired athletic director Alois Blackwell in February 2008 a year after the school received five academic performance warning letters from the NCAA. McClelland, the former AD at nearby Prairie View, took the Texas Southern job in April 2008, and he hired a compliance consultant to clean up the department.
Sankey said the school’s recidivist status raised the possibility of a ”death penalty,” which bans a school from competing in a particular sport. The NCAA has used it only once, against SMU’s football program in the 1980s.
Sankey said the cooperation from McClelland and school President John Rudley helped persuade the committee not to consider the death penalty in this case.
”That was a factor in the committee’s evaluation in the application of these penalties,” Sankey said.
The school said in its statement that it has hired seven ”professionals committed to compliance and academics.” The statement also said the school has addressed and improved its academics among student-athletes.
The school said that since the 2008-09 academic year, scores have gradually improved for all 16 sponsored sports. Overall the program has a combined score of 958 which is over a 120-point increase from the departments’ score of 834 in 2008-09, the statement said.
”If you take a look at where we are now, it’s a new era in TSU athletics,” McClelland said. ”I can assure that these concerns have been addressed and corrected.”
The most prominent violations involved former football coach Johnnie Cole and former basketball coach Tony Harvey. Cole was fired in April 2011, and Harvey resigned after the 2011-12 season. The committee noted ”particularly serious violations” occurred when Cole ”knowingly allowed a booster to recruit for the football program” and Harvey ”provided false or misleading information during the investigation.”
Specifically, the report said that Cole and former assistants ”were all aware that a booster was contacting potential transfers and their parents.” The booster also bought an airline ticket for a recruit’s girlfriend. The committee said Cole and his staff encouraged the booster’s efforts and failed to contact the NCAA about possible rules violations related to the booster’s activities.
The men’s basketball team, meanwhile, offered two scholarships that were unavailable after the program was penalized for poor academic performance. During the 2009-10 season, the team also did not adhere to restrictions on practice time, which were imposed after the team fell short on its academic progress report.
The committee also found that the university exceeded financial aid limits between 2008-11.
”Compounding the problems with oversight was that no squad lists were produced by the compliance office during the years the violations occurred,” the report said.
The committee concluded that Texas Southern ”lacked institutional control” due to its failure to design safeguards to prevent violations, monitor academic standards and keep track of scholarships. The school ”insufficiently investigated academic issues that involved 24 student-athletes and allowed 12 of the 24 student-athletes to receive unearned academic credit.”
Sankey praised Rudley and McClelland for their efforts to fix the athletic department.
”There has been a different level of attention and activity among the university’s current leadership,” he said.