Sunday’s news that Louisiana-Lafayette was being investigated for major recruiting violations incurred by former assistant coach David Saunders was the product of an investigation that started almost two years ago.
Saunders was accused of directing players to a specific site in Mississippi to take their ACT exams, where their answers would be altered in order to get them passing scores. Saunders was also accused of providing cash payments to players for educational and living expenses.
In its response to the NCAA allegations, Louisiana-Lafayette outlined the investigation as it played out, starting in December of 2013. Here is how the investigation played out over the last 22 months according to Louisiana-Lafayette’s official response to the allegations.
- December 2013 – The NCAA enforcement staff contacts Louisiana-Lafayette and requests to speak with Saunders and an unknown football player. The names of the players in question are redacted in the report.
- December 16, 2013 – Enforcement staff and legal counsel for the University of Mississippi meet with Saunders and an athlete pertaining to violations incurred while at Ole Miss. During the interview, a player reported that Saunders “somehow affected his [redacted] ACT exam score [redacted] and he believed that Saunders similarly affected the ACT exam scores of several current or former Louisiana-Lafayette football student athletes.” Upon hearing this, Louisiana-Lafayette President Joseph Savoie and Director of Athletics Scott Farmer employed outside legal counsel to cooperate with the NCAA investigation.
- January 22 – February 12, 2014 – Enforcement staff and the University conduct interviews with the student athletes and their families who were identified, plus those who were directly recruited by Saunders.
- February 19, 2014 – Enforcement staff, outside counsel and University of Mississippi counsel interview Ginny Crager, exam administrator for Wayne County High School. Crager was Saunders’ contact at Wayne County High School, and Saunders disclosed in an interview he’d known Crager since 2005. It was determined that four Louisiana-Lafayette players had taken their ACT there and received NCAA-qualifying scores. This is two weeks after national signing day, when recruits sign letters of intent to attend universities on football scholarships.
- February 25, 2014 – Saunders was interviewed a second time. His responses, combined with evidence obtained during the investigation, form the basis of the third allegation that he knowingly provided false or misleading information during the investigation.
- May 2014 – Louisiana-Lafayette removes Saunders from all recruiting activity.
- August 2014 – University and enforcement staff requests Saunders to provide a release to ACT to disclose payment records bearing his name to student athletes identified in the investigation. Saunders attorney withdraws representation before a release is provided.
- September 2014 – Enforcement staff and the university learn that ACT had conducted its own investigation earlier in 2014 into Wayne County High School, and finds out Crager is no longer working as test administrator.
- October 2, 2014 – The university again requests Saunders, represented by a different attorney, to allow ACT to disclose any payment records bearing Saunders’ name to student athletes.
- October 30, 2014 – Having heard no response from Saunders with regards to the payment records, Louisiana-Lafayette terminates Saunders’ employment. The team plays a home contest against South Alabama two days later. The NCAA report indicated Saunders’ employment was terminated on November 2.
- November 3, 2014 – Louisiana-Lafayette announces Saunders departure from the football team. It is originally passed off as a resignation, which was curious since it occurred at midseason. At the time, coach Mark Hudspeth said, “There is never a good time when you announce your resignation. … That’s what (Saunders) did yesterday for personal reasons, and that’s as far as we’re allowed to say.”
According to its report, the university reached out and requested a third interview with Saunders, which he declined through his attorney. His refusal to participate formed the basis of the NCAA’s fourth and final allegation, that Saunders “violated the NCAA cooperative principle by refusing to provide information relevant to the investigation.”