Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury officially started his job this week and must try to unite the team’s fans and alumni behind the football coach Paul Johnson. (Rob Felt / Georgia Tech)

Georgia Tech’s Todd Stansbury stands behind Josh Pastner, looks into appeal

Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury didn’t dispute the facts of the NCAA’s investigation into his men’s basketball program. That’s why his athletic department self-imposed a series of penalties for coach Josh Pastner’s team before the NCAA decided on its own.

But the considerable difference in the scope and depth of the two sets of penalties speaks to how differently Tech and the NCAA’s infractions committee saw the violations. For example, the most severe penalties Tech assessed upon itself (aside from asking for the resignation of assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie) were recruiting restrictions that would have ended in the 2019-20 recruiting cycle. It’s a far cry from the NCAA’s punishment of a one-year postseason ban and recruiting restrictions and a one-scholarship reduction per year for the next four years.

“I think that’s why we’re so surprised,” Stansbury told the AJC on Thursday. “Both the severity and the length of some of those penalties. We’re obviously at the point where we’re just digesting what’s been handed down, but I think that’s also why we’re going to look at what are our appeal options.”

From Tech’s perspective, the impermissible recruiting benefits provided by former booster and Pastner friend Ron Bell and also former Tech basketball star Jarrett Jack (through former assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie) were isolated incidents. Further, Stansbury’s belief was that Tech responded quickly and decisively, putting LaBarrie on leave upon learning of possible recruiting violations that ultimately resulted in his resignation.

“We worked with (the NCAA) side by side in trying to get to the bottom of the facts,” Stansbury said. “So I feel good about our process and the way that we worked with the NCAA on this. It really comes down to a difference of opinion on the severity of the punishment.”

Tech has 15 days to notify the NCAA of its intent to begin the appeals process. Seeking to overturn the one-year postseason ban likely will be at the forefront of the school’s efforts, given Stansbury’s comments that some of the penalties “will have a direct and unfair impact on current student-athletes.”

Stansbury has stood behind Pastner throughout the NCAA’s investigation, and Thursday’s report, whose only new information was the penalties, did not change his stance, neither regarding Pastner’s role in the violations nor the team’s performance on the court, where the Yellow Jackets have had back-to-back losing seasons after reaching the NIT finals (a season now vacated) in his first season.

“I like our team,” Stansbury said. “I like our student-athletes. And I feel like we’re in a great position to compete at the highest level and it’s part of an evolution.”

Stansbury noted that the NCAA did not find Pastner guilty of any violations, nor did an independent investigation into Pastner’s relationship with Bell. Stansbury did acknowledge that Pastner was censured for his poor judgement in permitting Bell to get close with team members and also that Pastner should have alerted compliance staff to Bell’s attempt to recruit then-Memphis player Markel Crawford as soon as he became aware of it. Pastner did not report it, the NCAA determined, because he did not consider Bell to be a booster.

“I can definitely see where (Pastner) he was at that moment in time,” Stansbury said. “And, in retrospect, you obviously wish he had (reported Bell’s actions) because that would have taken care of most of the issues surrounding Ron Bell right then and there.”

Still, Stansbury is left presiding over an athletic department that finds itself guilty of NCAA violations for the third time in less than a decade, a string of misdeeds that the infractions committee reasoned were aggravating factors in assessing its discipline. He also is a leader and alumnus of a proud institution that has also been dragged through the mud by the revelation of multiple ethics abuses by school officials.

“I would say embarrassed,” Stansbury said. “The fact that we’ve put ourselves in this position, that’s not how, as an alum, we expect Georgia Tech to act. And so I think embarrassment is the proper word.”

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