LEXINGTON, Ky. — The University of Kentucky’s athletic department administered penalties and letters of admonishment for 14 secondary NCAA rules violations during the 2015-16 academic year, according to documents the school provided in response to an open-records request by SEC Country.
All of the infractions were relatively minor, falling into the Level III, non-suspension variety, and came with relatively harmless penalties. Broken down by sport, there were four violations for football, three each for women’s basketball and women’s golf and one apiece for men’s basketball, men’s golf, baseball and women’s volleyball.
Each of the football violations were related to recruiting, while the lone men’s basketball infraction was the well-known case of Tyler Ulis posing for a picture with the rapper Drake after a concert. One of the women’s basketball violations, however, demonstrates one side effect of the recent staff upheaval. Here, a summary of each violation and resolution, provided by UK:
Sept. 24, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: Two unnamed recruits’ parents received lodging in Lexington the night prior to an official visit – one on Oct. 9, 2014, the other on Sept. 4, 2014. UK compliance discovered it during a routine review of expenditures after the visits. The director of recruiting (not named in the document, but Dan Berezowitz holds that title) told compliance that he misunderstood the NCAA legislation and thought schools were now allowed to pay for parents’ lodging the night before official visits began.
One of the recruits was declared ineligible, but UK requested and received reinstatement after he repaid $124 to charity (The Hope Center in Lexington). The other recruit did not enroll at UK, so reinstatement was not requested for him. The director of recruiting received a letter of admonishment, while he and all the football coaches received rules education. Additionally, UK football reduced its number of official visits for 2014-15 by four.
Oct. 19, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: An unnamed recruit had on-campus contact with a former player, who is considered a booster. UK compliance discovered it in reviewing game day photos on social media. Before the second home football game last fall, the recruit requested a photo with the former player and posted it. UK noted it did not arrange the meeting, monitors field access before games, discovered the violation on its own and educated both the recruit and former player on the rules. A senior associate athletic director followed up with a phone call to the former player to re-emphasize that there could be no contact with recruits and to inform him of a coming letter of admonishment.
Nov. 12, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: While attempting to direct message a recruit on Twitter, a UK assistant coach accidentally tweeted at him publicly. It was removed after two minutes. The coach self-reported to compliance. The recruit announced his commitment to UK on Aug. 3, 2015 (he’s unnamed in the document, but linebacker Jamar Watson from Maryland committed on that date) and the assistant attempted to direct message him congratulations (the coach is also not named, but former receivers coach Tommy Mainord was Watson’s lead recruiter). The director of recruiting noticed the public tweet and informed the assistant, who deleted it.
Kentucky requested relief from the standard SEC penalty because it was the assistant’s first violation at UK, the coach believed he was sending a legal form of communication and the mistake was caught, corrected and reported quickly by the football staff. The assistant received a letter of admonishment and the compliance staff provided education to all staff regarding NCAA Bylaw 13.10 in November of 2015.
Dec. 7, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: An assistant coach called a recruit on more than one occasion outside of an allowed contact period. It was discovered by UK’s use of a system that matches phone numbers in the coach’s phone bill to prospects’ numbers in the recruiting database JumpForward. The assistant called a recruit and his parents four times on Feb. 1, two of which the coach claimed were misdials and no contact was made. It was the first violation for the assistant at UK and the calls were made just one day before they were allowed. The assistant received a letter of admonishment, but UK asked for relief of penalty (no contact with the recruit for 14 days) because of “the unintended nature and brevity of the impermissible initiated call.”
MEN’S BASKETBALL (1)
Oct. 19, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: A violation of “preferential treatment” occurred when a UK player attended a Drake concert after-party and a member of the famous rapper’s management team recognized the player and invited him back to say hello. UK compliance discovered it after the athlete – whose name is redacted – posted a photo on social media. Tyler Ulis, UK’s started point guard at the time, posted a photo with Drake on Instagram the night of the concert, May 29, 2015, in his hometown of Chicago.
UK notes that Drake, an outspoken Kentucky basketball fan who has participated in Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena, had no contact with the player before the concert and did not provide him or his friends tickets to the show or access to the after-party. No benefit, monetary or otherwise, was gained, the school said. “They merely said hello and took a picture.” The player was briefly declared ineligible but was reinstated on Oct. 14, 2015. He and his teammates were educated on preferential treatment legislation.
* Drake received a cease-and-desist letter in 2014 after posing for pictures with then-UK recruit Charles Matthews at Big Blue Madness, which was also a Level III violation.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL (3)
Aug. 5, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: A practice player participated in six practices during the second semester of the 2014-15 season while not enrolled in school. UK’s director of compliance discovered it during a conversation with an academic advisor. The oversight was blamed on a glitch in the school’s website, which prevented the athletic department from knowing the student was no longer enrolled full-time. Once discovered, the practice player was immediately removed from the team and held out the remainder of the season. UK told the NCAA it reviewed its certification process for practice players and revised it for 2015-16.
Oct. 20, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: Head coach Matthew Mitchell “pocket-dialed” a Class of 2017 recruit one day prior to Sept. 1 of her junior year. Mitchell immediately self-reported to UK compliance. The call lasted 33 seconds, which UK asserts supported the inadvertent nature of the mistake. Normally, UK would prohibit the involved staff member from calling that recruit for 14 days and other staff from calling for 60 days, but because of the accidental nature of the offense, the school asked for relief from penalty. Mitchell received a letter of admonishment.
May 23, 2016 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: During the 2015-16 academic year, UK’s staff exceeded the number of permissible evaluations by one for two recruits and by two for a third recruit. Compliance discovered the violation while reviewing contact and evaluation reports for April. In its report on the violation, UK explained that recent staff upheaval contributed to the mistake.
“At the time that the violation occurred (during one of the last recruiting opportunities in April) one assistant coach had already not had his contract renewed, another assistant coach was trying to determine if she wanted to remain on staff, and the assistant coach responsible for the violation had recently been told by the head coach that she would no longer be in charge of recruiting when the new assistant coach came on board,” UK wrote. “This uncertainty led to a breakdown in the normal communication process among the women’s basketball staff that usually occurred regarding evaluations.”
UK noted that the assistant responsible is no longer on staff. Matthew Mitchell had to replace all three of his assistants in the offseason. UK will reduce evaluations for the first two recruits by two and the third recruit by four during the 2016-17 year. The new staff has “already implemented a system that includes better communication and cross checking to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future.”
April 22, 2016 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: An assistant coach had off-campus contact with two 2017 recruits on March 7, 2016, and March 21, 2016. A compliance coordinator discovered the violations in reviewing contact and evaluation reports. On March 7, the assistant was leaving a baseball park and saw a recruit and his parents, who approached and shook the hand of the coach. In what was described as an exchange of less than 30 seconds, the assistant told the recruit he looked forward to having him on campus for a visit.
On March 21, the assistant was approached by a different recruit and his parents. The assistant told the recruit he played a good game and that he would see him again this summer. The assistant coach mistakenly thought that because he had previously worked at a service academy (Air Force) that had an exception to the contact rule, this face-to-face, off-campus contact with high school juniors was permissible and disclosed the two contacts on his contact and evaluation compliance form.
UK requested relief from the SEC-mandated penalty of 30 calendar days with no off-campus recruiting for the involved assistant. The school issued a letter of reprimand to the coach, limited in-person contact (on or off campus) with the involved recruits until 30 days following the first permissible date for in-person, off-campus contact, and did not permit any additional off-campus contact with the involved recruits. UK also withheld the assistant from the road for 15 days while requesting relief from the other 15 mandated by the SEC and provided education to the baseball staff on the contact rule.
WOMEN’S GOLF (3)
Sept. 21, 2105 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: An assistant coach “inadvertently” texted a Class of 2018 recruit before the allowable Sept. 1 date of her junior year in high school. The coach self-reported the violation within minutes to UK compliance, explaining that in attempting to text the head coach, he instead responded to a group text that included and had been initiated by the recruit. UK noted that the assistant had never committed such a violation, provided screen shots of the exchange to verify it was inadvertent, and no recruiting advantage was gained. Due to the circumstances, the school requested relief from any penalty.
Nov. 20, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: An assistant coach, due to a misunderstanding in talking to UK’s director of compliance, evaluated a 2017 recruit on Nov. 11, 2015, during the NCAA’s Dead Period around the fall early signing period. It was the assistant’s first such violation, a communication breakdown with compliance contributed to it, and it was self-reported by the golf staff. The assistant received a letter of admonishment, was removed from off-campus recruiting for three days and UK self-imposed the elimination of three recruiting opportunities with the prospect.
April 22, 2016 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: The head coach and an assistant had an impermissible evaluation during a dead period. The head coach self-reported to compliance after a recruit reached out to the coach while UK was at the SEC championship tournament at the recruit’s home course. The recruit asked the staff to come watch her hit some balls on the range, which they walked over and did for 10 minutes. Afterward, the coach realized it was a recruiting dead period and contacted UK compliance immediately upon returning from the tournament. UK removed both involved coaches from off-campus recruiting for two weeks, issued both of them letters of admonishment and conducted education to be vigilant of the recruiting calendar.
MEN’S GOLF (1)
May 10, 2016 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: The head coach mistakenly responded to a text message sent by the father of a 2018 recruit and self-reported to UK compliance upon realizing he’d responded to the wrong person. The recruit’s father, who has the same first and last name as a friend and colleague of the UK coach, sent a congratulatory text during the conference tournament and Kentucky’s coach responded with a brief “Thanks.” The coach was not allowed to make any phone contact with any recruits for 14 calendar days after the discovery of the violation and UK did not make calls or send recruiting materials or permissible transmissions to the involved recruit for 30 days. The coach promised to more clearly label his phone contact and received a letter of admonishment.
WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL (1)
Nov. 9, 2015 – Level III (non-suspension) violation: An unnamed assistant coach tweeted information and pictures from a youth camp at UK that included names of teams featuring recruits. The assistant also tweeted pictures of the recruits at the camp, thus announcing their presence on campus. UK compliance discovered it during a routine review of Twitter. UK checked with the SEC, which checked with the NCAA and confirmed multiple violations (of NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199). Impermissible tweets were deleted, the assistant received a letter of admonishment and the entire athletic department received education on endorsements.
* Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleTucker_AJC. Reach him at Kyle.Tucker@ajc.com.