John Swofford was ‘surprised’ at Georgia Tech’s postseason ban

ACC commissioner John Swofford during the 2019 ACC Men's operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (photo by Bob Leverone, the

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ACC commissioner John Swofford during the 2019 ACC Men's operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (photo by Bob Leverone, the

ACC commissioner John Swofford gave Georgia Tech a measure of support in its expected bid to appeal the men’s basketball team’s postseason ban, a penalty levied by the NCAA’s infractions committee two weeks ago for major rules violations.

“Candidly, I was surprised at the postseason thing,” Swofford told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday at the league’s Operation Basketball media event in Charlotte. “I didn’t expect that. But I’m also not inside the case with the (infractions) committee. And I felt that Georgia Tech had addressed the issues very appropriately.”

Tech’s postseason ban was among the sanctions handed down by the NCAA for rules violations stemming from impermissible benefits violations, along with four years of probation, scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions.

“I felt Georgia Tech had done a very thorough job internally in taking the steps that they needed to take institutionally in regard to it,” Swofford said.

Swofford’s surprise at the postseason ban stemmed from his perception of Tech’s response being appropriate and the nature of the infractions. The value of the impermissible benefits extended to Tech athletes (Josh Okogie, Tadric Jackson and Justin Moore) was about $2,700.

Athletic director Todd Stansbury has also said he was surprised at the severity and length of some of the penalties and said that the athletic department would look into its options for appeal. On Tuesday, Tech center James Banks said that Stansbury told the team that he "was going to do everything in his power to allow us to play in the postseason this year."

Asked about Tech’s three major violations cases dating to 2011, Swofford again gave his support.

“I don’t know that there’s much to make of it, of there being any connection,” Swofford said. “They’ve all been disconnected from one another. And certainly no institution wants to have that, even once. I’m very confident that (Stansbury) is addressing that, as is the president’s office.”

The commissioner's words might represent some sort of moral victory for Tech. One reason that the violations were deemed Level I-standard – a category of the severity of the infractions for which a postseason ban is  that incurred the postseason ban – was Tech's recent history of major violations. Had it been assessed at Level I-mitigation, Tech might have avoided a ban.

In the investigation, Tech had asked that that its history of major violations be assigned minimal weight on the basis of the latest infractions being unrelated to the previous violations. The infractions panel not only denied the request but assigned significant weight to the history of violations, citing “a pattern of compliance issues at Georgia Tech with specific issues that continue to arise within the men’s basketball program.”

The 2011 violations stemmed from preferential treatment given to former football star Demaryius Thomas and Tech’s response to the NCAA investigation, which was deemed a failure to cooperate. In the same investigation, the NCAA also found that the men’s basketball team had conducted impermissible tryouts. In 2014, Tech was again placed on probation for coaches in three sports (including men’s basketball) for making about 700 improper text messages or phone calls, most of which were made by an assistant football coach (Todd Spencer) who resigned after the communications were discovered. Many of the other communications were violations were the result of a failure to properly document calls due to a misunderstanding of an NCAA rule.

“I’ve always felt very good about the culture at Georgia Tech and still do,” Swofford said. “And the culture is really important. What we lose sight of sometimes, I think, is that the problem, it’s not an institution. It’s a lapse in judgement, character or whatever behavior with individuals that represent that institution. Certainly, Georgia Tech as an institution and the leadership of the people at Georgia Tech are never going to knowingly cross a line in terms of an NCAA compliance issue. I believe that totally.”

More broadly, Swofford expressed his confidence in the overall direction of Tech’s athletic department under Stansbury’s leadership. Besides the NCAA issues, the men’s basketball team hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2010, the women’s basketball team fired coach MaChelle Joseph in March (replacing her with Nell Fortner) after an investigation found that she bullied players and was mentally, emotionally and verbally abusive (Joseph has sued the school and Stansbury, alleging sex discrimination, a retaliatory and hostile work environment and breach of contract) and the football team is 1-4 under new coach Geoff Collins.

Calling Tech “an important institution to this league” for its academic stature and history of “doing things the right way athletically,” Swofford said he believed that the athletic department would make its way through its different challenges.

“I think they’re going through what I would say is a transition right now that’s related to a number of different things,” Swofford said. “There’s new leadership, there’s these issues to get resolved and get behind them and move forward. I think there’s a very forward-thinking attitude at Georgia Tech that will ultimately pay big dividends. No reason why it shouldn’t, because of the history and tradition and where it’s located and the quality of the institution and the quality of the leadership. I’m a big believer in Georgia Tech and what lies ahead.”

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