Georgia Tech men’s basketball team and coach Josh Pastner were dealt a crushing blow to the impending 2019-20 season Thursday. The NCAA infractions committee banned the Yellow Jackets from the postseason in the wake of an investigation into recruiting improprieties committed by former assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie and Ron Bell, a former friend of Pastner’s whom the NCAA classified as a booster.
The ban was handed down Thursday at the end of the NCAA’s investigation. Tech will also face four years of probation, a reduction of one scholarship for each year of probation, significant recruiting restrictions for the length of the probation and a $5,000 fine in addition to 2% of the team’s budget. Further, the infractions committee recommended that team members be permitted to transfer and play immediately at their new schools.
The postseason ban is particularly punitive, as Pastner has repeatedly spoken of his intention to return the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010. The ban means that Tech’s season will end with the final regular-season game, March 6 at Clemson, with no opportunity to play in the ACC tournament. It was a dismal birthday for Pastner, who turned 42 on Thursday.
Pastner’s fourth Jackets team has had the look of a team capable of challenging for a tournament bid, with 73% of the team’s scoring returning, including returning starters James Banks, Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe. The additions of transfers Jordan Usher and Bubba Parham also stood to add scoring and playmaking ability for a team that needed both.
“Both sets of violations occurred because men’s basketball coaching staff members invited outside individuals into their program,” the committee wrote in a statement. “They permitted these outside individuals to interact with their student-athletes, and those actions resulted in violations.”
In a statement, athletic director Todd Stansbury said that the school is considering appealing some parts of the decision.
“While we regret that these violations have occurred and appreciate the NCAA Committee on Infractions’ work on this case, we are disappointed with the severity of the penalties imposed, some of which will have a direct and unfair impact on current student-athletes,” Stansbury said.
In a teleconference, Stansbury acknowledged his embarrassment, saying that the violations “do not align with our values of putting student-athletes first and playing by the rules.”
While stating that Pastner showed poor judgement in permitting Bell to be so close to the program, he stood behind him and said that he did not consider dismissing him, noting that he was not named in the NCAA investigation and that he was also cleared by an independent investigation performed at Tech’s behest.
Stansbury said that a verbal and written admonishment of Pastner “is the extent of any discipline for Josh.”
In a statement given first to the AJC, Pastner said: “I deeply regret the NCAA violations that occurred within our program, and I am sorry to everyone associated with Georgia Tech who has been affected and disappointed by these violations. I am more committed than ever to ensuring that these types of violations don’t occur within our program ever again.”
The postseason ban falls in line with other punishments given by the infractions committee. As of March, out of 17 cases on the NCAA’s major-infractions database over the past five years, 16 included probation, 14 had scholarship reductions, 13 faced recruiting restrictions and 11 were penalized with postseason bans of at least one year.
The infractions committee found that Tech acted decisively when discovering the violations committed by LaBarrie and Bell. There were also no findings of a lack of institutional control or failure to monitor.
Also, Tech self-imposed a number of penalties over the course of the investigation, including verbal and written admonishment of Pastner, a 14-day reduction in recruiting days for the staff for the 2018-19 cycle and a reduction in the number of official visits in 2017-18 and 2018-19 from 24 to 20. Tech assessed a three-year disassociation with LaBarrie, a one-year disassociation with Jack, a permanent disassociation with Bell and a $5,000 fine.
The NCAA infractions committee evidently found that to be greatly lacking.
The recruiting restrictions imposed are not slaps on the wrist. For eight weeks during each of the four years on probation, prospects cannot make unofficial visits to Tech and coaches are prohibited from communicating with recruits. The number of official visits is also reduced by three for the length of the probation.
Former Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, who was the chief hearing officer for the infractions panel, said in a teleconference that Tech’s penalties were at the “lower level” for the category of the violations, deemed “Level-1 standard.” (Level 1 violations are the most severe of four tiers of NCAA misconduct.)
However it also concluded that Pastner was aware of Bell’s interaction with former Memphis player Markel Crawford and his attempts to recruit him to Tech as a transfer, but did not act.
“The booster made the head coach aware that he continued to communicate with the potential transfer, but the head coach did not report any concern to the compliance office because he did not believe his friend triggered booster status,” the statement from the NCAA read.
The NCAA also gave a three-year show-cause order to LaBarrie, which effectively serves as a suspension from coaching at the college level for that span.
In February, the NCAA notified Tech of allegations of three recruiting violations, two committed by LaBarrie and a third unrelated violation committed by Bell, a former friend of Pastner’s who was deemed a representative of Tech’s interest (i.e., a booster).
The two violations against LaBarrie were deemed severe breaches of conduct, the NCAA’s highest level of violations. The violation against Bell was assessed as a significant breach of conduct, the second highest of four levels of misconduct.
The allegations against Bell, which he has acknowledged, were the provision of impermissible benefits to then-Tech basketball players Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie. They were part of a prolonged conflict between Pastner and Bell that resulted in a lawsuit by Pastner and a countersuit by Bell and his girlfriend Jennifer Pendley. Both sides agreed to drop their lawsuits in August.
Both of LaBarrie’s alleged violations (facilitating both an impermissible contact with a recruit and the distribution of impermissible benefits, and then providing false or misleading information about the violations to NCAA investigators and also attempting to influence a Tech basketball player to provide false or misleading information) were deemed to be severe breaches of conduct. The recruit was Wendell Carter, who played one season at Duke after graduating from Pace Academy, the contact was with former Tech star Jarrett Jack and the team member was Justin Moore. Carter plays for the Chicago Bulls in the NBA.
LaBarrie has acknowledged taking Carter and Moore to a strip club and arranging the meeting with Jack, but said that he was unaware that Jack provided money to Carter or Moore and even questioned if such an exchange actually happened. He also acknowledged lying to the NCAA, but said it was a result of being fuzzy on details and panicking in the meeting with investigators, and that he later came clean of his own volition. He also said that he did not attempt to influence Moore’s testimony to the NCAA.
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