A look back at the AJC story by Mike Knobler on Nov. 18, 2005 when the NCAA cracked down on Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech self-imposed the first NCAA probation in its history.
It cut scholarships, too.
But when the NCAA infractions committee announced Wednesday it was wiping six seasons of Tech football off the record books and imposing new scholarship cuts that extend through 2007, Tech cried foul.
“I think it’s a little bit much, ” school President Wayne Clough said.
Enough that the Yellow Jackets might appeal.
“We’re going to take the weekend to think about it, ” athletics director Dave Braine said. “We’ll make a decision early next week.”
Tech admits to playing 17 athletes in four sports whom it should have ruled academically ineligible. The infractions committee admits Tech’s mistake was inadvertent. But there was substantial disagreement on how serious that mistake was and how severe the penalties should be.
Tech self-imposed a one-year probation. The NCAA doubled it.
Tech self-imposed scholarship cuts, including the loss of six signees in the 2005 and 2006 football recruiting classes. The infractions committee added a limit of 79 total football scholarships for the 2006 and 2007 teams, six below the normal maximum.
And the committee went a step further, requiring Tech to “vacate the performance of its football team for all contests during the football seasons in which” players “competed while ineligible.” Those seasons, 1998-2002, plus 2004, were all winning seasons that ended in bowl trips.
“That’s something that you really have to look at closely before you accept it, ” Braine said, and he added that he could see no downside to filing an appeal. “Everybody here is aware that other schools have had penalties recently, ” Braine said in an apparent reference to Georgia, which successfully appealed penalties imposed on its men’s basketball program.
Eleven of Tech’s 17 ineligible athletes were football players, and many were stars, NCAA infractions committee chairman Gene Marsh said. The other ineligible athletes were in men’s and women’s track and field and women’s swimming. Names of the players were not released.
Marsh cited one case in which 17 of an athlete’s 24 hours did not count toward a degree and another in which an athlete took 12 non-degree-applicable courses in consecutive years. “There were also several examples of nine or 10 non-degree courses being used in a single year, ” an NCAA statement said.
Tech argued that those cases look worse than they were. For example, Clough said, a student enrolled in courses that satisfied degree requirements in a new major but didn’t fill out the paperwork to make his change of major official.
Marsh conceded some of the ineligible athletes could have been eligible if they’d filed appropriate paperwork or been given better academic advice. But he said that wasn’t true of all the cases.
“There were some things they couldn’t fix, ” he said. “I think five student-athletes were far enough removed from eligibility that they couldn’t have been fixed.”
The committee also hit Tech hard for failing to police itself adequately and for failing to catch the eligibility mistakes even after it had been told it had a problem.
Marsh said the case involved “a non-debatable example of lack of institutional control.” Tech debated it, arguing it was guilty only of the lesser “failure to monitor.”
The additional scholarship cuts were necessary, Marsh said, because the cuts in signees hadn’t had much effect. Tech has 83 scholarship football players this fall, two below the maximum.
Tech coach Chan Gailey said cutting to 79 would hurt. He had no other immediate comment.
“I’m trying to win a football game [Saturday at No. 3 Miami], ” Gailey said. “I haven’t had time to think about it.”
This is the second major infractions case in Georgia Tech history. The first, a 1989 case involving the men’s tennis team, did not result in probation. That short infractions history might have kept the school from being on its toes.
“We were too complacent about where we were, ” Clough said about rules compliance. “It bothers me as an alumnus that this happened. We owe an apology to our fans.”
But Clough also suggested it’s unreasonable to expect a school not to make any mistakes when dealing with hundreds of athletes.
“If you go to any university, you’re probably going to find something, ” he said. “There’s going to be a slip-up.”
Tech has reformed its process for verifying academic eligibility and training academic advisers.
“It’s a good plan for the future, ” said Marsh, a University of Alabama law professor. “They have reason to be proud of their academic programs. I think they’re on the right course headed to the future.”
Tech has 15 days to appeal. If it does, the case goes to the infractions appeals committee, a different group of people from the ones who heard its case. The process takes months.
“We’ve lived with [the infractions case] for two years, ” Clough said. “If we have to live with it for a few more months if we think it’s worth it, so be it.”