The NCAA announced Thursday an investigation into Georgia Southern football found several violations relating to academics.
The violations resulted in penalties issued by the NCAA, including two years of probation, the loss of two scholarships in 2016 or 2017 and the potential vacating of wins if any ineligible players participated in those games. Georgia Southern is eligible to compete for both the 2016 Sun Belt championship and a bowl bid.
In a statement released by Georgia Southern's Office of Marketing and Communications, the school, "accept(s) the self-reported findings and we thank the NCAA for acknowledging our prompt and decisive institutional efforts to address this issue."
A pair of former Georgia Southern employees - one an assistant compliance director and the other an assistant director of student-athlete services - were found to have violated NCAA policies in assisting three Eagle football players with coursework.
The statement also emphasized that the violations were committed by "rogue" former employees who tried "to hide what they knew to be policy violations."
The rules infractions stem from a pair of incidents, beginning in September 2013 and concluding in December 2014.
In the first case, occurring in September 2013, a football player was provided with a flash drive containing previous coursework for a class in which the student-athlete was enrolled. The player then resubmitted the work already contained on the flash drive as his own.
A professor identified the academic dishonesty and notified the football program, which self-reported the incident to the NCAA.
When first confronted with the academic impropriety, the player initially claimed to have found the flash drive and later stated that he took the flash drive without the compliance director's knowledge. The player eventually admitted to being given the flash drive and later working with the former employee to craft responses to allegations of academic dishonesty.
In a separate incident that ran throughout the fall semester of 2014, the former student-athlete services director was found to have completed and submitted 10 extra-credit assignments on behalf of two football players. The NCAA determined that the director acted without the players' knowledge, acquiring their login and password information required to submit coursework.
"In both cases, the committee found impermissible academic benefits," chief hearing officer and chair of the Committee on Infractions Greg Sankey said during a media teleconference Wednesday. "It was also found that the actions of the two employees violated the NCAA's ethical conduct rules."
As part of the revelation of the incidents, the NCAA also issued the following penalties to Georgia Southern and its football program:
- Censure for Georgia Southern University
- A two-year probation period for the athletic department ranging July 7, 2016, until July 6, 2018
- A reduction of two football scholarships to be imposed during the 2016 or 2017 season
- A 10 percent reduction of official recruiting visits to campus
- A 10 percent reduction on off-campus fall evaluations
- A $5,000 fine, plus an additional amount equal to 1 percent of the football program's operating budget
Three-year show-cause orders also were levied on the two former Georgia Southern employees. This penalty mandates that NCAA-affiliated institutions wishing to hire either person in an athletically related position before July 6, 2019, will have to appear before an NCAA panel to show cause as to why restrictions on their employment should be lifted.
Show-cause orders are individual rather than institutional in nature and are among the most severe penalties that can be ordered by the NCAA.
A final proposed penalty for the Georgia Southern football program could affect the Eagles' overall records in the 2013-15 seasons, as well as their 2014 Sun Belt championship.
According to NCAA regulations, any and all games (and subsequent titles won) in which ineligible players competed are to be vacated. It is likely that this will result in one or more wins from the 2013 season being stricken from the record books.
The 2014 season remains in question. Despite a lack of knowledge or complicity on the part of the players who had extra credit turned in on their behalf, the academic violation still would have made them ineligible. Wednesday's infraction report stated that both the NCAA and Georgia Southern acknowledged that one of the two players receiving the benefits had played after becoming ineligible but did not say whether that participation occurred in 2014 or during the 2015 season.
The NCAA's report claims that the illicit assignments were turned in during December 2014. Georgia Southern played its final game of 2014 on Nov. 29, making it unclear whether any wins from that season - or the Eagles' Sun Belt Conference championship - could be vacated.
Sankey stated that "no specific timetable is in place for when games and titles must be vacated," but the public infractions decision issued Wednesday states that, barring an appeal by Georgia Southern, updated records and titles must be submitted to the NCAA's media coordination and statistics staffs within the next 45 days.
Georgia Southern officials said no further statements about the NCAA infractions - via the athletic department or university communications office - would be issued until the school has made a formal response to the NCAA.