The NCAA's Committee on Infractions Means Business

Molly C. Richman

Author: Molly C. Richman

POST DATE: 12.13.16
Ccha  Sports Law

A few months ago, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions issued its report in the long-awaited case of the University of Southern Mississippi. The case involved violations of academic fraud and extra benefit legislation in the men’s basketball program, and included unethical conduct charges for the former head coach, Donnie Tyndall, and multiple assistant coaches.

In recent years, the NCAA has put an added emphasis on head coach control matters, and the penalties and commentary from the Committee in this case drives that emphasis home. This is the first decision by the Committee on Infractions, since the new penalty structure went into effect, which utilizes the new penalty guidelines to their fullest extent. The penalties against Donnie Tyndall in this case are unlike any penalties we’ve seen in recent years and prove that the Committee on Infractions is fully prepared to enforce the Guidelines instituted in 2013 in order to send a message to wrong-doing coaches.

In Donnie Tyndall’s case, the COI found violations of unethical conduct, failure to cooperate and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance, three of the most egregious violations in NCAA legislation. In support of these findings, the COI found that Tyndall engineered a plan to have his assistant coaches and managers complete academic coursework for prospective student-athletes, thereby encouraging and participating in violations of academic fraud. In addition, the COI found that Tyndall was involved in administering extra benefits to prospective student-athletes, when he paid for online courses for certain prospects. Finally, the COI found that Tyndall engaged in a number of actions designed to thwart the investigation, including deleting emails pertinent to the investigation, providing false and misleading information to the NCAA enforcement staff and contacting other individuals involved in the investigation while prohibited to do so.

For violations of this nature, the standard penalty, according to the Penalty Guidelines, calls for a show-cause order restricting the coach from all or partial coaching and recruiting duties, for a period of two to five years. If the violation is aggravated, the Penalty Guidelines call for a show-cause order restricting the coach from ALL athletically related duties for a period of five to ten years. Though the Committee on Infractions is required to follow the penalty guidelines legislated in the NCAA Manual, the Committee has full discretion on where to slot the case within the guidelines.

As a result of Coach Tyndall’s violations, the COI issued to Donnie Tyndall a 10-year show cause order (restricting him from all athletically related duties), effectively prohibiting him from coaching at any NCAA institution for a ten-year period. (Specifically, the show-cause order requires any school who hires Tyndall to suspend him from all coaching duties during that ten-year period.) In addition, any school that hires Tyndall after the show-cause order expires on April 7, 2026, must suspend him from the first 50% of the first season he is employed. It’s clear that the Committee on Infractions was, no doubt, sending a message in this case, as they found multiple “aggravating factors” applied to Coach Tyndall, slotting the case in the “aggravated” category and issuing the most severe penalty possible. Coach Tyndall has submitted an appeal to the Infractions Appeals Committee and is currently awaiting a response.

Some argue that the violations in these cases were more egregious than any violations in cases in recent years, which is why they Committee slammed down the proverbial hammer. These violations are of the most serious nature, and by no means should they be undercut. However, to say they are the most serious violations the Committee has seen since the Baylor case of 2003 (involving the murder of a men’s basketball student-athlete by a fellow teammate) is a stretch. Many cases since then have involved violations that clearly threaten the integrity of intercollegiate athletics. Cases involving the payment of prospects to gain a competitive advantage (University of Miami) and academic fraud (Syracuse University), also involved violations of the most serious nature, yet the coaches involved in these cases did not incur the same wrath from the Committee on Infractions. If the Southern Mississippi case was processed five years ago, would the Committee have issued a 10-year show cause order to Coach Tyndall? Maybe not. The severity of these penalties should be a warning to all coaches that the Committee on Infractions means business and is fully prepared to utilize the new penalty guidelines to send a message.

Our sports law practice has experience and expertise representing institutions and coaches involved in infractions matters. In addition, we work with NCAA institutions and coaches to educate them and their staffs on NCAA rules compliance. We’ve helped several schools implement a plan to keep their head coaches compliant with NCAA regulations while still remaining competitive within their respective sport. Click here to learn more about our firm and how we can partner with you. For more information about Molly and CCHA’s sports law practice, please visit her her profile.