And why did officials try to blame it all on the former athletic director?
For a variety of reasons, and over a number of years, people, technology and common sense failed and melted together in a cauldron of ineptitude that has landed Southern University a five-year probation, scholarship losses, and national embarrassment for its ‘lack of institutional control’ in compliance and competence of its NCAA athletics certification systems.
Southern University officials are eerily excited about that result, and for good reason. A few years ago, more than 200 students athletes being academically ineligible or improperly certified over a six-year period would’ve earned the school the NCAA death penalty, and could have crumbled one of the core institutions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and black college sports culture at large.
So it’s fine that Southern gets a reprieve from the systemic bias the NCAA has shown towards low-resource Division I members over decades. HBCUs deserve to take a breath from being underwater on everything from APR, to watching schools like UNC-Chapel Hill skate by on legitimate academic fraud committed in concert with and against black athletes while black colleges are unfairly propped up as the national model on mid-majors institutions doing too much to get a piece of the billion-dollar college sports industry.
But what Southern doesn’t get to do is misrepresent its own failings as a footnote of the NCAA’s bias. Southern screwed up, in a way that few schools have ever screwed up before. Every varsity sport in which it competes had dozens of errors related to processing athletes’ majors, grades and eligibility. And while there is relief that the punishment was not far more lenient then it could’ve been, the report itself shows a far more egregious crime that many have looked over.
The university’s attempt to blame this historic sports scandal on former athletic director William Broussard.
How It All Fell Apart
William Broussard arrived in Baton Rouge in March 2012, and within a span of a few years, proved his mettle as a high-caliber athletic administrator. The Jaguars competed for and won titles in football and basketball, broke records in fundraising, and broached new ground in athletic marketing exposure with broadcast and apparel contracts. He led a campus-wide effort to reverse an all-sports postseason ban against the school levied by the NCAA for its submission of unusable data for Academic Progress Rate reporting dating back to the early 2000’s.
In 2014, the SU Board of Supervisors gave him a three-year contract extension, one vote short of unanimous support for his staying on.
And then he was gone. And now we know why.
According to its report, Southern was contacted by the NCAA in 2013 for an audit of its academic progress data, which was discovered to have been haphazardly kept and incorrectly reported over a course of years.
Key findings include:
- The transfer of student records from the previous student information system to the new system, Banner, required a daunting amount of computer coding. During this process the institution made many coding errors, one of the most significant of which involved students’ majors. The majors listed in Banner for many students, including student-athletes, did not reflect their correct major or course of study. This rendered the institution incapable of generating accurate academic records for all students.
- During the 2009–10 and 2010–11 academic years, a former director of compliance (former director of compliance 1) performed all continuing eligibility certifications for the institution. The process she used to certify eligibility was flawed and included the use of an obsolete website to determine if a prospective student-athlete met initial eligibility requirements. The institution made little or no effort to determine whether earned credit hours were degree applicable. Former director of compliance 1 reported she knew very little about NCAA progress-toward-degree legislation, and the institution provided her little to no training on the subject.
- Because the non-resident fee waiver only applies to student-athletes receiving athletics aid, NCAA legislation requires all member institutions in Louisiana taking advantage of this tuition waiver to consider it as “countable” aid. In some instances, the institution did not properly account for this financial aid waiver in determining a student-athlete’s financial aid package. Further, there was a lack of awareness of how this waiver would affect student-athletes’ financial aid. Consequently, the institution exceeded grant in-aid limits in some sports…Additionally, former director of compliance 2 correctly ascertained that the institution should count the nonresident fee waiver toward the institution’s equivalency limits. That had not been the institution’s practice up to this point. In 2013, shortly after this discovery, former director of compliance 2 moved out of compliance and into a new position in athletics. Because of this move and subsequent turnover in the compliance office, the institution did not investigate whether it had exceeded equivalency limits at that time.
In March 2015, the university told NCAA investigators that Dr. Broussard was guilty of inquiring of the university’s registrar about the major of one student athlete, which was subsequently changed. A month later, he was reassigned without explanation. Four months later, the university announced that he would not return as athletic director.
Three years before Dr. Broussard’s arrival and according to the NCAA investigation, Southern’s athletic department received virtually no institutional support in the areas of record keeping, athlete certification and compliance. No one received training. Former directors admitted having little to no knowledge of the rules of compliance or the job of monitoring the same. Players were not only wrongly certified, but allowed to practice, travel and compete for full seasons. Coaches improperly designated financial aid awards for students beyond what was allowed by NCAA bylaws.
And the only person who tried to fix it was identified as the primary culprit in the school’s failed culture of compliance, even for years which preceded his hiring.
As for that grade-changing allegation levied by the school?
Regarding the changing of the student-athlete’s major, the former director of athletics sent an email to the registrar questioning the accuracy of the student-athlete’s major as listed in the institution’s student information system. In the email, he also asked to discuss this issue with the registrar. In response to this inquiry, the registrar accessed and changed the student-athlete’s major. The registrar reported that the former director of athletics did not ask her to change the student-athlete’s major. As part of this allegation, the enforcement staff alleged that the former director of athletics caused the student-athlete’s major to be changed without proper documentation. However, after the notice of allegations was issued, the institution located a document reflecting that the student-athlete’s major had been properly changed but this change was not correctly reflected in the system. The former director of athletics was justified in questioning the student-athlete’s major and the registrar changed the student-athlete’s major to the correct one. For these reasons, the panel concludes that a violation of NCAA Bylaws 14.9.1 and 14.10.1 was not demonstrated.
Southern will lose more than 18 scholarships, including five football slots, will be on probation until November 2021, pay a $5,000 fine and will vacate all regular season and postseason wins in which ineligible players competed. If this were Louisiana State University, it would lead all sports networks for the next 24 hours, and draw the animosity of fans and supporters against the board and athletic department.
But this is Southern, an institution known for preserving its own at all costs, a practice that has costs the institution good leadership, millions of dollars, and heartache of supporters over decades. It’s not surprising that the institution would try to implicate Dr. Broussard as a villain; he’s not a Southern alum, and implemented many systems that probably rubbed Southern faithful the wrong way in terms of appropriate athletic business planning.
It isn’t surprising that Southern struggled so mightily to reconcile its technology, personnel and mission to do the basic work of athletic compliance; given how badly the institution has been chronically underfunded, how dramatically the enrollment has fallen, and how desperate the school is to find affordable talent, over the mandates of board members and stakeholders asking for departments to hire friends and relatives who have no prospects of actually doing an important job well.
But what is most surprising is that Southern thought that throwing one man under the bus would erase half a decade of mismanagement and underfunding in action. Had it been that bad and solely on his account, Dr. Broussard would’ve been fired on the first day the NCAA came knocking; after all, he replaced the former AD who was fired on suspicion of solicitation in 2011, and eventually settled with Southern for more than $150,000 for wrongful termination.
But he wasn’t fired; just reassigned and left for the public to wonder what exactly went, or was going wrong with a program that on his watch, had reclaimed a spot as one of the best among all HBCUs.
If this were any other Division I program, Dr. Broussard would’ve been issued a public apology and reinstated as athletic director. But what we get is this weird reaction from its current AD and men’s basketball coach Roman Banks.
“For the NCAA to accept self-imposed penalties, you have to know they have a lot of confidence in what you’ve been doing as it relates to investigating yourself and taking corrective measures,” Banks said. “That’s a huge vote of confidence, so you know how I feel right now about the outcome. This is great.”
Regrettably, that will have to be enough for Dr. Broussard, and fans sick of stories like this playing out for reasons we’ve seen far too many times, with nothing ever changing but the names and the penalties.