The NCAA Committee on Infractions announced Friday it approved a negotiated resolution with USF, ending a year-and-a-half long inquiry with the Athletics Department being placed on probation until 2024.
The NCAA’s enforcement staff agreed to levy Level II violations that occurred within the football program under former coach Charlie Strong and the women’s basketball team under coach Jose Fernandez.
Both programs were found to have had noncoaching staff members impermissibly participate during practice and off-field activities. Noncoaching staff members led drills and failed to report compliance violations, among other infractions.
USF football will lose two scholarships for the 2022-23 academic year. USF will also have to pay a fine of $10,000 plus one-half of 1% of each of the football and women’s basketball budgets. Strong, now an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Fernandez each received individual penalties.
“USF Athletics places great emphasis on and is committed to the highest level of integrity and NCAA rules compliance,” Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly said in a statement. “While I am disappointed to have discovered actions that did not uphold these values, I am pleased with the professionalism and speed with which our compliance and administrative staff self-reported and collaborated with the NCAA for a thorough review.
“I believe we have a strong culture of compliance at USF. As such, we will use this as an opportunity to learn and improve as a department as we continue to pursue best practices and the highest standards of compliance.”
The inquiries first began in February 2020 when a member of the athletics staff said certain violations went unreported, namely impermissible on-field activities by noncoaching staff members on the football team during the 2018-19 season.
After USF’s outside counsel conducted interviews and found relevant evidence, which included practice footage, the violations were confirmed. The noncoaches were caught giving hands-on instruction both during on-field practices and film sessions.
It was a repeated offense for USF under Strong as the university submitted Level III violations for the same problem in August 2017 and March 2018. Following those infractions, Strong met with then-USF President Judy Genshaft and former Athletic Director Mark Harlan who asked him to adhere to noncoaching staff member limitations.
It is not permissible for noncoaching staff members to participate in activities that can be considered coaching in nature such as providing instruction to players at any time, set up offenses, defenses or game strategies directly to players or participate in any practice, competition or warm-up related activities, among others, according to NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168.1.
However, a noncoaching staff member, referred to as football noncoaching staff member 1, continued to participate during practice and off-field activities throughout the 2018 season. They specifically provided technical and tactical instruction to tight ends during drills and film sessions.
Much of the same occurred during the 2019 season as the noncoaching staff members regularly led special teams drills and film sessions, and even simulated position players in scout team drills. Many of the infractions occurred while Strong was on the practice field, according to the report.
Additionally, an alert system was used in order to avoid compliance.
Whenever USF’s compliance staff visited practice, they weren’t able to observe the extent of the violations as the team’s equipment staff members provided warnings to the noncoaching staff directly whenever they’d see someone from compliance heading to the practice field. The noncoaches would stop or step back from their activities.
The negotiated resolutions found that “seven then-football noncoaching staff members participated impermissibly in on- and off-field practice activities. As a result, the football program exceeded the permissible number of countable coaches.”
Strong was found responsible for all the violations and will be suspended for one game if he decides to rejoin the collegiate coaching ranks for the 2021-22 or 2022-23 seasons, according to the report.
While conducting the investigation into the football program, USF received another internal report, this time detailing how the women’s basketball program had noncoaching staff members engaging in impermissible activities as well.
There were two noncoaches that participated in walk-throughs in the presence of the coaching staff and Fernandez, according to the report. They also participated in team drills on five different occasions during the 2018-19 academic year.
The violation came after USF had previously reported a similar issue in 2018.
Women’s basketball and Fernandez were also found to have not accurately reported countable athletically related activities (CARA) in its reports to university compliance staff.
The team’s staff made all players on the roster make 50 free throws a day, according to the report, and had certain players participate in extra cardio drills, all of which were not recorded and resulted in CARA overages.
In another CARA violation, on Dec. 31, 2018, the women’s basketball team practiced from approximately 8 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. “in violation of legislation prohibiting CARA activities during a continuous eight-hour period between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.”
The penalties handed down to the program include Fernandez being subjected to a one-year show-cause order that will include enhanced monitoring of himself and the program and NCCA rules education that includes monthly meetings with a USF compliance officer.
Fernandez will be restricted from participating in 15 hours of team practices over the course of the season, and the team will lose a total of 12 practice hours for the season.
“As the head coach of the USF women’s basketball program for the last 22 years, I have taken great pride in leading a program that has continuously displayed a high level of compliance and integrity,” Fernandez said in a statement.
“While these were isolated incidents, I appreciate the NCAA’s diligence in this inquiry and take full responsibility. I will continue to work closely with our compliance department to ensure our program maintains a level of compliance that aligns with the NCAA’s high ethical standards.”
The NCAA also handed down smaller short-term penalties to the women’s golf, women’s volleyball, women’s basketball and football programs.