The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) imposed sanctions on the Dons men’s golf team on April 6 for a series of Level II and III violations pertaining to impermissible recruiting practices, including benefits to recruits valued at over $2,000. The violations occurred between Oct. 2012 and Nov. 2016 under the leadership of former coaches Rich Yakota and Dr. Gary Nelson. Neither remain at USF.
The sanctions mean that all wins and records occurring in matches that involved ineligible athletes will be vacated. Further, the team has been placed on one year of probation, paid a self-imposed $5,000 fine and will have limits placed on domestic and international recruiting during the 2018-2019 school year. There will be no recruiting within the United States during the month of Dec. 2018. Internationally, the men’s golf program was not allowed to recruit athletes from Jan. 1, 2018 to March 31, 2018. All prospective student athletes coming to USF for their official or unofficial visits were to be notified in writing that the program was on probation until April 5, 2018.
Additionally, in order to be reinstated to compete, all athletes who received inducements have made a donation to a non-profit organization in their name in the amount equal to the value of the gifts they received.
The Athletics department learned of the minor Level III violations in Nov. 2016 and began an internal investigation which brought larger violations to light. The results were then given to the NCAA Committee on Infractions on Feb. 7, 2017.
The NCAA case details violations which started in Oct. 2012 under head coach Rich Yakota and continued through Nov. 2016. Yakota was relieved of his duties following the 2014-2015 season, but the violations continued under his successor, Dr. Gary Nelson. Nelson was terminated by the department on Dec. 1, 2016.
Under the leadership of Yakota and Nelson, the program violated a total of six NCAA bylaws on multiple instances. Most notably, a total of eight prospective student athletes received over $2,000 in so-called recruiting inducements, such as free or discounted rounds of golf, free driving range access, free off-campus lodging and free transportation. Those offenses occurred in the recruiting efforts of eight prospective student athletes. Six of the eight prospective student athletes ultimately attended USF and competed with the Dons. One of the total eight is still in high school now.
The most egregious violation occurred from Oct. 26, 2016 to Nov. 1, 2016 during the unofficial visit of a student who was a junior in high school. Dr. Nelson and unnamed members of the 2016-2017 men’s golf team arranged impermissible off-campus contact with the athlete. Off-campus recruiting contacts are only allowed for seniors in high school. According to the report, a member of the team picked up the athlete from the airport and drove the student to visit different golf courses around the city. The prospective student athlete spent one night at the athlete’s off-campus residence, free of charge. Dr. Nelson also arranged for the prospective student to play free rounds of golf at each of the three courses at which the team practices, and provided transportation for the prospective student athlete to and from campus, golf courses, restaurants and the airport on Nov. 1.
When asked whether the student has committed to play for USF, Nicole Kavlick, assistant athletic director in charge of Compliance and Student Services, could not give a solid answer, due to the legal limits of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. She did, however, confirm that the Dons continued to recruit the student after the violations came to light. “There was somebody that we’ve been continuing the recruiting process with, who could have received benefits and has yet to enroll full time with us or with another institution,” Kavlick said.
Additionally, from June 2016 to his resignation, Nelson sent 19 email messages to 15 prospective student athletes before their junior year of high school. This breaks an NCAA Division I bylaw that forbids athletic departments from contacting persons until September 1 of their junior year of high school.
In Nov. 2016, Dr. Nelson and his wife travelled to a U.S. city in which a European national federation was holding a U.S. camp. A federation is the governing body that controls a national team. In this instance, Dr. and Mrs. Nelson met over dinner with the director of coaching and the trainer from the national team of the federation. Multiple prospective student athletes were members of the national team. Dr. Nelson paid for the meal, amounting to impermissible entertainment under the NCAA.
The NCAA found another violation against the program for failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. Bylaw 188.8.131.52 states that a coach is responsible for the actions of all of his or her staff and must ensure that the program follows all laws and regulations.
The current coach of the team, Jack Kennedy, previously served as the assistant coach under Dr. Nelson, but is not directly mentioned in the NCAA sanctions report. The Athletics department must submit a list by May 21 detailing which wins and records will be vacated by the men’s golf program.
Featured Photo: The USF men’s golf team is facing NCAA sanctions for impermissible recruiting. DONS ATHLETICS/FLICKR