Players lied about coursework

Updated: May 11, 2005, 12:10 PM ET
Associated Press

THIBODAUX, La. -- Nicholls State University will be on probation for four years after the NCAA concluded an academic adviser and assistant football coach did correspondence course work for more than two dozen athletes.

The NCAA accepted the university's proposed penalties, which included forfeiting football and volleyball victories and cutting the maximum numbers of football and basketball scholarships, but added a year to the three-year probation suggested by Nicholls officials.

"There is only one side to today's story, and that is, Nicholls State University and the NCAA are on the same page," university president Stephen Hulbert said. "We concur with the facts of the NCAA report and we accept the penalties as appropriate to the violations."

The case involved involved 24 football players, a would-be player and two basketball players.

"The heart of the case involved three former employees -- the head basketball coach, an assistant football coach and an academic adviser," said Josephine Potuto, vice-chair of the Division I Committee on Infractions. Neither she nor the NCAA report identified them.

However, Nicholls State fired assistant football coach Jeff Richards after discovering the football scandal last year. It also fired head football coach Darryl Daye for failing to "maintain proper controls," though he was not implicated in the fraud. Ricky Blanton resigned as head basketball coach shortly before last season began, citing family reasons.

The volleyball team also was fined $10,000 and forfeited its conference championship. But Potuto said it was for a mistake rather than fraud -- using an ineligible course to calculate a player's grade-point average. That player has graduated, Hulbert said.

He said the university registrar noticed last August that nine athletes who had withdrawn without grades from Nicholls State courses or had below-standard ACT scores had gotten Bs and B-pluses in on-line correspondence courses from Brigham Young University.

The players involved many starters, Hulbert said. He said all 27 lost two to three years eligibility, and at least half have left Nicholls State.

Potuto said the academic adviser suggested the fraud to Richards -- whom she referred to only as "the assistant football coach" -- in 2003, because two football players were having trouble making grades required by the NCAA. The adviser got the idea because one player had taken a correspondence course from BYU the previous year.

In 2004, "the thing snowballed," with the adviser and Richards doing online coursework or providing answers ahead of time for two basketball players and the other football players, Potuto said.

They also told three assistant football coaches who were among the four people named as proctors to ensure that students did their own work, "We just need you to be a mail-drop for the material," Potuto said. She said the adviser or a coach picked up the material from those supposed proctors.

They also told the athletes and three high-school coaches to lie about whether the students had done the course work, Potuto said. The NCAA cannot identify the high schools, league spokesman Kent Barrett said afterward.

None of the ex-employees cooperated with the investigation, the NCAA said.

Potuto praised Nicholls State for catching the fraud and for its self-imposed penalties, including the exclusion of the school from Southland Conference television packages in football and men's basketball.

But the committee said additional penalties were warranted because of the seriousness of the violations and the complicity of those involved.

Hulbert said the committee added only two penalties: an additional year of probation, and forfeits of five victories in the 2003 season. He said the university's investigation involved only 2004, and the NCAA's findings about the previous year came late in its investigation.

Probation is "not of concern to us as it is simply a reporting process," he said.

Penalties suggested by Nicholls and accepted by the league included a one-year loss of one basketball scholarship and a two-year cut in the maximum number of football scholarships.

Through the 2007-08 school year, football coaches will have seven fewer off-campus recruiting days, and the sport will be restricted to 60 scholarships -- instead of the maximum NCAA-permitted 63 for class I-AA -- for the next two years. That won't affect the number Nicholls awards because it hasn't been able to afford more than 60 for years, spokesman Michael Logue said.

Nicholls State also will have to report the case to its regional accrediting agency because academic fraud was involved, the NCAA said.

"We at Nicholls are relieved to put this series of events behind the university community," Hulbert said. "We move forward having learned some painful lessons and having initiated significant preventative measures to ensure full compliance with NCAA" rules.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press