LAFAYETTE — One portion of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s response to the NCAA Notice of Allegations against it and former assistant football coach David Saunders contained a conservative estimation of 108 of 215 possible answers being changed on a prospective student athlete’s ACT exam answer sheet.
This is the type of information that repeatedly popped up throughout the investigation, according to the documentation in UL-Lafayette’s response, though it is the only case where the exact number of changed answers was not redacted. It is this type of information that led the university to agree with most of the major allegations against Saunders levied by the NCAA.
Sunday, UL-Lafayette released both the NCAA Notice of Allegations against the program and Saunders and the university’s response to those allegations.
On Monday, Director of Athletics Scott Farmer briefly addressed the NCAA’s investigation but did not take any questions regarding the alleged violations, saying, “NCAA protocols prohibit the university from commenting any further.”
The two documents, Farmer said, paint a clear enough picture.
“I encourage you, please take the time to read those two documents in their entirety,” Farmer said. “They will answer most of your questions.”
That much is clear. Both the 33-page Notice of Allegations and UL-Lafayette’s 78-page response paint a clear picture of Saunders’ alleged improprieties and the evidence lined up against him.
The evidence supporting the first allegation — that Saunders orchestrated fraudulent ACT exam scores for at least six prospective Cajuns football players — is particularly damning.
This allegation forms the crux of the entire investigation and is also the origin of the three other allegations against Saunders.
According to the evidence outlined in the reports, Saunders coaxed players who would not have gained admission to the university based on their previous exam scores to take the ACT exam at Wayne County High School in Mississippi.
When pressed for a reason why he sent players there, Saunders said it was because the testing location was in a rural area and consistently had available seating, according to a transcript from the reports. ACT testing occurs six times per year, according to the report.
But the evidence unearthed in the investigation — interviews with the players and their families, reviews of the exams in question and Saunders’ phone records — portrays a fraudulent and “complex” scheme that involved coordination with Wayne County High School’s ACT exam administrator, Ginny Crager.
In an interview with investigators, Saunders said he only contacted Crager for testing dates and seat availability at Wayne County High School.
Saunders only provided phone records between March 2013 and January 2014, but those records showed that he made “five phone calls within four days prior to, and including, the June 2013 national ACT testing date,” according to the report, a time period after the student athletes indicated in the report had already registered for the exam.
The incongruence between the phone records and testimony that Saunders would only call and check on dates and availability, among other things, led investigators to conclude Saunders was dishonest in his interviews.
The interviews with the athletes and their families also provided a glimpse into how Saunders used the testing site to get athletes eligible who otherwise wouldn’t have been.
The athlete whose test had half of the possible answers changed took his exam at Wayne County High School, which, according to the report is “more than four hours from where (redacted) actually registered and could’ve taken the (redacted) exam on the same date.”
The second student in the report took the ACT in a room by himself, supervised by Crager. His father drove him to Wayne County High School at Saunders’ urging.
One prospective student athlete said during an interview in the investigation that he saw a woman “remove what he believed to be his exam from the crate where he had turned in his exam.” The man was shown a picture of Crager, and “he reported that if the woman in the photo ‘had more gray hair,’ it would look like the woman he saw removing test sheets from the crate.”
Another said he never had any contact with Saunders or anyone at UL-Lafayette about the ACT test, but phone records indicated the coach reached out to him with 20 calls and 28 text messages in the time between registration for the exam and the exam itself.
Another player said he failed to answer questions on each section of his exam, but his answer sheet had an answer for every question.
ACT independently investigated the Wayne County High School testing center, which UL-Lafayette’s response reported was done after the NCAA enforcement staff and Ole Miss began requesting information on specific students involved in the investigation.
UL-Lafayette’s response to the Notice of Allegations stated that the pattern of impropriety went “undetected” from before Saunders was hired by the university. Saunders was previously an assistant at Ole Miss.
In its response to the allegations, the university states that it “nevertheless … recognizes the significance of this matter, and acknowledges that it bears ultimate responsibility for the regrettable and reprehensible actions of a lone member of its football coaching staff.”