NCAA cites Georgia Tech for ‘failure to monitor’

Georgia Tech has been censured by the NCAA for an failure to monitor, largely due to a failure to keep records of phone calls former football assistant coach Todd Spencer.

Credit: Johnny Crawford

Credit: Johnny Crawford

Georgia Tech has been censured by the NCAA for an failure to monitor, largely due to a failure to keep records of phone calls former football assistant coach Todd Spencer.

A failure to abide by NCAA rules — which was entirely avoidable, largely unintentional and scarcely beneficial — has placed Georgia Tech again in an embarrassing position.

After a two-year NCAA investigation, the school will receive a “failure to monitor” reprimand for what was deemed a Level II violation, which is defined as a “significant breach of conduct.” The institute also subjected itself to an additional two years of probation (on top of its four-year probation penalty assessed in 2011) because of a former assistant football coach’s willful disregard of text-messaging rules and also because of 461 impermissible calls and 256 impermissible text messages to prospects made by coaches in football and men’s and women’s basketball coaches in 2011 and 2012. There will be no further penalties, such as vacated wins or scholarship reductions.

The NCAA’s report was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open-records request. In 2012, the AJC reported assistant football coach Todd Spencer’s resignation for sending numerous text messages to prospects in violation of NCAA rules. The NCAA’s investigation began after Tech voluntarily reported its findings about Spencer.

Tech supporters, and perhaps all college sports fans exasperated with the NCAA’s voluminous rulebook, will find aggravating that much of the punishment resulted from coaches’ misunderstanding about an NCAA rule requiring documentation of all phone calls made to prospects, even those that go unanswered.

Athletic director Mike Bobinski, who inherited the NCAA investigation when he was hired in 2013 after Dan Radakovich’s 2012 departure to Clemson, conceded his frustration over being penalized over the violation of a seemingly pointless rule, albeit one broken dozens of times.

“But the reality is, we live in a regulatory world,” he said. “There are rules and regulations that govern how we do our work.”

Tech’s censure follows major infractions in 2005 (probation and scholarship reductions for using 17 academically ineligible athletes in four sports) and 2011 (stripping of the 2009 ACC football championship and four years of probation after an investigation into impermissible benefits provided to former football player Demaryius Thomas.)

“It weighs on everybody,” Bobinski said. “It’s a heavy process and one that should not happen here at Georgia Tech and we are resolved that it will never happen again.”

Serial misunderstanding on the part of Tech coaches of NCAA rules regarding phone calls to prospects accounted for a significant portion of the violations. After the school implemented software in 2010 that monitored coaches’ phone calls, coaches said they were erroneously advised by then-compliance director Paul Parker and his staff that they no longer were required by NCAA rule to keep a log of phone calls, according to the NCAA’s findings.

That is not the rule, however. During periods when a coach may only make one call to a prospect, the coach may make additional calls to a prospect if the initial call or calls are unsuccessful, but must have documentation proving that the call was not completed. However, if there is no such documentation, any subsequent call becomes impermissible.

According to a chart received in the records request, of the 461 documented impermissible calls made in 2011 and 2012 by coaches of the football team and both basketball teams, 79 percent lasted less than two minutes. About 40 percent were attributable to “systemic logging failures,” according to the NCAA report.

A statement submitted by the enforcement staff stated its belief that the coaching staffs were acting on erroneous advice from compliance staff and, Spencer aside, “did not intend to commit the violations” and that “little or no recruiting conversation took place during those calls.”

The NCAA came down more harshly on three women’s basketball assistant coaches on the staff during the investigated time period — Octavia Blue, Janie Mitchell and Sam Purcell. While they also unknowingly made impermissible calls, once they became aware of the violations, they “made a conscious decision to not report the violations to the compliance staff or to inform (coach MaChelle) Joseph,” the report read. All three offered explanations, “but each generally admitted they knew not reporting the violations was wrong,” according to the report. All three have since taken jobs elsewhere.

Heavy turnover in the compliance office complicated matters. Parker, who resigned in May 2011, was replaced by Jerome Rodgers, who was not retained by Bobinski after the 2012-13 year. Rodgers and his staff were focused on eligibility and aid matters in the fall of 2011, Bobinski said, delaying the implementation of new monitoring software. It’s possible that, had it been begun operating earlier, many of the impermissible calls and texts could have been detected and deterred.

The report also gave further detail on Spencer’s misdoings. Between April 7, 2011 and January 8, 2012, he sent 217 impermissible texts to 18 prospects. He told NCAA enforcement staff that there was no excuse for the texts, that he knew it was a violation but did it anyway, in one case because of a relationshp with a prospect that was deemed to have “a significant humanitarian dimension.” Most damaging, Spencer told investigators he would have stopped had he known that the school was monitoring his text usage.

In an affidavit, Spencer, now an assistant at Army, apologized to “the NCAA, to my present and former institutional employers, and to all the coaches, players and fans adversely impacted by my violations while at Georgia Tech. My experiences in the wake of my January 2012 resignation from Georgia Tech have forever seared in my memory the lesson that every rule is to be respected and that every violation has the potential to generate major repercussions.”

No other Tech officials or coaches were made available to comment on the matter. However, Bobinski joined school president G.P. “Bud” Peterson on a conference call Friday morning with members of the athletic association board, where Peterson made clear his displeasure.

“He’s embarrassed for the institute, he’s embarrassed personally that we’re in this circumstance,” Bobinski said of Peterson, “but he also said, he expressed his confidence that we have tackled this head on. We’ve collaborated and cooperated fully with the investigation, accepted the outcome and are in a much better place to avoid this going forward.”