NCAA denies Georgia Tech appeal

Georgia Tech’s trophy case officially is one valuable prize lighter.

The NCAA gave the school word late Thursday that its appeal over a ruling delivered in July was turned down. As a result, the school will be required to return its 2009 ACC football championship trophy and accept findings that it failed to cooperate and failed to meet the conditions and obligations of membership in an NCAA investigation into possible impermissible benefits violations involving two former football players.

"It's unfortunate that Georgia Tech's appeal was unsuccessful," ACC commissioner John Swofford said, "but now that the process is complete, Georgia Tech can put this behind them and move forward."

The ruling ends a 2 1/2-year process that began in November 2009 and flashed last July with the NCAA’s judgment that Tech had committed a major rules violation, resulting in a fine of $100,000 and four years of violation in addition to the vacated title and other penalties. The verdict of the infractions appeals committee is final.

“We’re disappointed, but we knew the percentages,” associate athletic director Wayne Hogan said Friday.

Tech faced tall odds in its appeal because of NCAA bylaws instituted in 2008 that raised the standard for a successful challenge. Only one of at least 14 appeals heard since then (including Tech’s) has been overturned. The appeals committee, made up of four administrators or professors from NCAA member schools and one commercial attorney, acknowledged merits in Tech’s appeal, but ultimately sided with the findings of the infractions committee.

“While we cannot say the failure to inform was done for the purpose of having the student-athlete play in one or more games, it is clear to us that there was a key failure to inform the president of important facts of this situation,” stated the 16-page appeals committee report, speaking of the process by which Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson decided against declaring wide receiver Demaryius Thomas ineligible late in the 2009 season in the face of questions that he had accepted $312 worth of clothing in violation of NCAA rules.

Regarding the basis of the failure to cooperate finding — athletic director Dan Radakovich’s disregarding instructions of NCAA enforcement not to share information of an impending investigative interview with a football player, Morgan Burnett — the appeals committee wrote, “There is not room to allow one to fail to cooperate with the instruction of the investigation and then be allowed to be excused for that behavior if after the fact, one can allege that the failure to cooperate had no bearing on the matter. Cooperation is not conditional.”

Tech contended that the team gained no competitive advantage from playing Thomas in the title game because, even if it had declared him ineligible for the Georgia game the previous week, his eligibility would have been restored by the title game. The committee deemed the contention as speculative.

The school’s legal counsel for the appeal cost about $105,000, nearly all paid to the Birmingham law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White.

Said Peterson in a statement, “We felt we owed it to the Georgia Tech community and to our student-athletes to exercise the appeals process provided by the NCAA in order to defend the integrity of Georgia Tech and to reaffirm our commitment to the principles and obligations of the NCAA.”

Hogan said that there had been no discussion on what to do with the trophy, which has been sitting in a small room in the athletic department building’s administrative wing.

“We’ll do whatever’s right to the conference office,” he said.

Staff writer Doug Roberson contributed to this article.