Georgia Tech’s appeal to the NCAA over sanctions handed out last July has been denied. The school will be required to return its 2009 ACC football championship trophy to the league office, one of the penalties for NCAA findings of failure to cooperate and failure to meet the conditions and obligations of membership in an investigation into possible impermissible benefits violations to former football players Demaryius Thomas and Morgan Burnett.
“In its appeal, Georgia Tech asserted the vacation of records penalty was not warranted based on its contention that it did not gain a competitive advantage, among other factors,” the NCAA wrote in a release. “After a comprehensive review of the case, the Infractions Appeals Committee found the facts of the case did support the findings of violations. The Infractions Appeals Committee also found it speculative to state a competitive advantage was not gained and the penalty was appropriate in this case.”
The verdict of the infractions appeals committee is final. The school has no other legal recourse on the appeal. The investigation began in November 2009 when an NCAA investigator learned of possible impermissible benefits, which turned out to be $312 worth of clothes given to Thomas by his cousin’s roommate. Burnett was not found to have violated NCAA rules.
The school faced significant odds for an overturn of any of the two findings or the revocation of the football championship. Since the NCAA toughened standards for appeal in 2008, only one out of at least 14 appeals has been granted.
“We are disappointed with the ruling of the NCAA appeals committee, but respect the process and the NCAA’s decision,” Georgia Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson said in a statement. “We felt we owed it to the Georgia Tech community and to our student-athletes to exercise the appeals process provided by the NCAA in order to defend the integrity of Georgia Tech and to reaffirm our commitment to the principles and obligations of the NCAA.”
Peterson was out of the country and unavailable for comment, according to a school spokeswoman. Athletic director Dan Radakovich declined comment.
In its appeal, the school conceded it had made mistakes during the investigation, but argued that the indiscretions didn’t want warrant a finding of improper conduct or the removal of the ACC title. Tech argued that the title removal was inappropriate and an abuse of discretion, one criterion for an overturn of an appeal. The school claimed that none of the factors typically associated with a penalty of vacated wins, including academic fraud and serious intentional violations, were met.
“The vacation penalty punishes an entire team of student-athletes by taking away a championship because of decisions made in good faith by institutional staff members,” the school contended in a written appeal filed last September.
To lodge the appeal, the school retained the services of the Birmingham-based law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White, including Gene Marsh, the former chair of the NCAA’s infractions committee. As of December, the school had paid $93,000, nearly all of it to Lightfoot, Franklin & White, for counsel.
A school statement released last July noted Tech’s “unwavering commitment to the integrity of its athletics program” and that “we feel that we owe it to the institution” and the football team to appeal.
In addition to the return of the trophy, Tech must vacate the win from coach Paul Johnson’s records and remove any public references to the ACC title.
More updates to come
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog