NCAA appeals committee backs Georgia Tech, ending case

After its initial attempt to penalize the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team with a four-year scholarship reduction was denied on appeal a year ago, the NCAA infractions committee’s attempt to do so again has been rejected a second and final time.

The NCAA’s case with Tech over two sets of recruiting violations, initiated by an investigation begun in 2017, is over as the NCAA appeals committee found in favor of Tech for a second time that a four-year scholarship reduction was an abuse of the infractions committee’s discretion. The infractions committee cannot further appeal the ruling of the appeals committee.

The decision was released Tuesday, hours before coach Josh Pastner’s team was to play its first-round game in the ACC Tournament against Louisville in New York.

In February 2021, the appeals committee found in favor of Tech after the school appealed two penalties issued in September 2019 – a reduction of one scholarship for four years and a ban on conducting official visits that coincide with home basketball games – as well as a finding of “intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution and bylaws,” which is what the NCAA terms an aggravating factor that is used to determine the classification and severity of the penalties.

Regarding the latter, the appeals committee agreed with Tech that the NCAA infractions committee wrongly judged that Tech had not demonstrated such disregard regarding the actions of former assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie, who broke NCAA rules in the recruitment of former Duke star Wendell Carter.

Tech’s assertion led the appeals committee to remand the scholarship-reduction and vacate the official-visit penalties and the finding of institutional disregard of NCAA rules and to call upon the infractions committee to assess a more appropriate penalty.

While asked to reconsider the scholarship-reduction penalty, the infractions committee essentially stuck to its four-year scholarship-reduction penalty, deeming it an appropriate penalty for the severity of the violation. In its May 2021 decision of its revised penalties, the committee relented only slightly, giving Tech a four-year window (the 2021-22 academic year through the 2024-25 academic year) to serve the remaining three years of the scholarship reduction instead of having to do so in consecutive years. (Tech had already served one year of the reduction, in the 2019-20 academic year.)

It was an unusual decision by the infractions committee in largely adhering to its original penalty despite the appeals committee’s remanding the four-year scholarship reduction, a seeming judgment that it found the penalty excessive

Tech promptly appealed a second time, and the appeals committee again found in its favor, agreeing with the institute that the infractions committee departed from case precedent and did not adhere to the guidance provided by the appeals committee. (Tech was represented in both appeals by attorney John Long of the law firm Jackson Lewis.)

“The appeals committee found the school’s arguments persuasive and determined that the hearing panel failed to consider and weigh material factors and that the penalty was based in significant part on one or more irrelevant or improper factors,” the NCAA news release read.

The appeals committee’s decision further shot down an argument of the infractions committee that, if the scholarship-reduction penalty were vacated, then Tech would serve no meaningful penalties in part because the school self-imposed its postseason ban in March 2020, days before the NCAA canceled its postseason at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tech did sit out of the ACC Tournament that year, which began without the Yellow Jackets before that event was also canceled.)

“In this case, a one-year postseason ban was considered served in spring 2020 as a result of a decision made by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors,” the decision read. “The actions by the Board of Directors during a national pandemic should not serve as justification for the prescribed penalty.”