What’s an NCAA violation? Texas leads state in violating wide variety of arcane rules
SAN ANTONIO - At Texas A&M, a volleyball coach found and bought a first-class ticket that was cheaper than a coach seat. But despite the apparent savings, the move was a minor or Level 3 NCAA violation.
One of the more arcane rules Texas Tech violated in the past four years occurred when a men’s tennis player was compensated for an $11 lunch. It wasn’t the amount that triggered the violation. It was the time of the meal, which occurred 45 minutes before the allowable time window.
Despite efforts in recent years to downsize the extensive NCAA rule book, schools still self-report dozens of violations annually.
The University of Texas athletic department self-reported 148 minor violations in the past four years, according to data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. That was more than twice as many secondary violations as Texas A&M, which was second in the state with 73.
To put those numbers in perspective, Power 5 conference schools average about 17 violations per year, according to the NCAA,. That is less than half of Texas’s average of 37,
Conversely, North Texas turned itself in for a mere six violations during the same span, an average of 1.5 per year. That’s far below the norm for other Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools, which average nine violations per year.
Because the violations are deemed minor, volume is not regarded as hugely consequential unless it is extremely low.
“What raises a red flag to us is when an institution doesn’t report any, or very few violations, said Chris Strobel, the NCAA’s director of enforcement. “That’s more of a red flag, more than a lot of violations.”
Closer to home, UTSA had 31 violations in the four-year span, one less than Texas State. Houston (46) and Texas Tech (43) rounded out a survey of the state’s major public schools who complied with an Open Records request.
“If you don’t have any, that puts the spotlight on you,” confirmed Josh Daume, UTSA’s associate athletic director for compliance.
“We do get a quarterly report from Conference USA that shows what we’ve reported as well as the other schools. The last couple years, we’ve been right about in the middle. That’s right where you want to be.”
The NCAA defines a secondary or Level 3 violation as “isolated or inadvertent in nature, provides or is intended to provide only a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage and does not include any significant recruiting inducement or extra benefit.”
In fact, the relative insignificance of several of the violations brings attention to the level of detail schools face.
A&M turned itself in for a football violation in November of 2015 when a coach used tobacco products, and again in January of 2016 for an athlete receiving two textbooks from the same class. Those are no-no’s as well.
One of Texas more obscure violations involved a mascot being present at a 2017 football stadium event for a recruit. It was one of 67 football violations at UT.
UTSA self-reported a violation for women’s basketball not taking a day off during a vacation week last winter.
“The NCAA membership has really focused on deregulation,” Daume said. “We can’t give them cream cheese; we can’t give them peanut butter. We’ve gotten rid of petty rules that don’t give anybody an advantage. It’s great that we’re going in that direction. Things are easier to monitor.
“That’s what the general public doesn’t understand. There’s not somebody sitting there in a castle making these rules. It’s the membership who does this,” he said..
That message continues to be reiterated by the NCAA.
“All the rules are there because member institutions wanted them there,” said Jon Duncan’s the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement. “We don’t make them up in Indianapolis.”
The vast majority of the violations incur little to no sanctions from the NCAA. “Any penalties imposed try to reflect the significance of the violations,” Strobel said. In the case of the impermissible lunch at Tech, the $11 had to be returned.
Other violations, such as extra tickets to games or meals for relatives of recruits, are assessed a penalty, which is typically donated to charity.
Many of the violations involve contacting recruits during quiet periods. Schools tell the NCAA they will review the dates with their coaches to ensure similar problems don’t occur again.
Some violations are seemingly unpreventable. A head coach or assistant gets a text from someone he or she does not know. The originator turns out to be a recruit, or a relative of a recruit. When the coach responds, a violation has occurred if the communication happens at an impermissible time.
Other violations are more significant.
In 2016 at UH, a women’s tennis player was caught falsifying academic documents to gain admission and financial aid. The Cougars also had a men’s basketball manager this past May who was caught betting on games. Citing privacy issues, the school would neither identify the people involved nor reveal their status.
At UTSA in 2015, men’s and women’s tennis players charged for impermissible lessons on school property, requiring restitution of a combined $190.
At Texas, men’s swimming exceeded time limits in 2016 on 15 occasions while women’s basketball exceeded the permissible number of recruiting days by eight in 2015, then failed to serve a previous penalty in 2016..
In 2016 at Texas A&M, a football player received $250 for complimentary tickets.
Some schools take a different approach to reporting minor violations, opting for total transparency. Alabama posted its 13 violations from July 2017-July 2018 on its web site. The Crimson Tide’s infractions ranged from a soccer coach inadvertently pocket dialing someone to the baseball team not providing a day off on two occasions when it was obligated to do so.
Of the 379 violations reported by the seven state schools surveyed, 31 percent (118) occurred in football. Women’s basketball and men’s and women’s track each had 42, followed by men’s basketball (30), volleyball (22), softball (19) and women’s swimming (17).
Men’s sports were responsible for 56 percent of the violations that were assigned to a specific gender. Thirty of the violations were assigned to either men’s and women’s sports combined or administration.
Texas State, UTSA and North Texas had more women’s violations than men’s.
“If you look at number of sports on the women’s side, and the number of kids being recruiting, it’s not a red flag,” Daume said..
Another reason schools are incentivized to self-report stems from cases involving more serious Level 1 or 2 violations. In those instances, punishment can be impacted by whether a school has established a track record of diligence related to minor infractions.
“If there is a history of self-reporting violations, they do get mitigating credit for that,” Duncan said.
The process of determining what is and isn’t a violation continues to evolve.
“The example that jumps out is text messages,” Strobel said. “ There was a prohibition communicating via text. It was okay through email, handwritten letters, phone, but at the time, back before unlimited data plans, prospects could be charged per text message. Originally it was for the student athletes' protection. As that became less of a concern, some of the sports wanted to keep that ban. It took awhile for that one to fall off. Now its permissible to communicate via text.”
Food is another area where rules have changed. “There are more liberal rules for meals and snacks,” Duncan said.
Just don’t try to pay for lunch before NCAA rules permit.