La.-Lafayette acknowledges NCAA probe, sanctions itself
LAFAYETTE, La. — Louisiana-Lafayette officials say their football program is under investigation by the NCAA because a former assistant coach allegedly schemed to fraudulently boost certain recruits’ standardized test scores.
Documents released by the university this week, in response to public records requests by The (Lafayette) Daily Advertiser, allege that former linebackers coach David Saunders also funneled more than $6,000 in cash to a prospective student-athlete who was attending a junior college.
"We take the allegations very seriously and have fully cooperated with the investigation," Louisiana-Lafayette athletics director Scott Farmer said. "We’ve been committed to finding the truth as much as the NCAA."
Louisiana-Lafayette 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 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 with Louisiana-Lafayette 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.
The university does not dispute the allegations of test-score fraud, which entailed Saunders advising recruits to take their ACTs at a specific test center in Wayne County, Mississippi, where he had a relationship with the supervisor administering the test. That supervisor, Ginny Crager, allegedly agreed to change recruits’ answers as needed to produce more favorable results.
Louisiana-Lafayette is disputing that there is sufficient evidence to conclude Saunders gave cash to a recruit.
The NCAA notified Louisiana-Lafayette that the alleged violations represent a "severe breach of conduct."
The NCAA’s formal notice of allegations is dated last May 22. A response from the university, dated Aug. 20, states that Louisiana-Lafayette worked collaboratively with NCAA enforcement staff from the time allegations first surfaced in December 2013 against Saunders, who was also an assistant recruiting coordinator. The university also noted that Saunders was fired when "it became clear" by last October that violations had occurred. The university also stated that it immediately withheld student-athletes whose test scores were in question from further participation.
Documents from the NCAA and university state that Saunders has denied wrongdoing but also has refused to cooperate with investigators.
Farmer said that later this fall, university officials will appear at a closed NCAA hearing and that the university cannot comment further until the probe had concluded.