Sun Belt Conference to add Coastal Carolina _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson answers questions at the media day at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on July 20, 2015.

LAFAYETTE — Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson said the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will not face any financial penalties from the SBC in relation to the NCAA investigation into academic fraud allegedly orchestrated by former assistant coach David Saunders.

Speaking from the press box at Centennial Bank Field where the Cajuns faced Arkansas State on Tuesday, Benson said any sort of additional financial sanctions would not be directed from his office.

“There’s no conference policy that references any of that,” Benson said. “The NCAA has its own potential financial penalties that they could levy.”

The NCAA investigated Saunders for his alleged role in sending prospective student athletes to a rural ACT testing site in Mississippi, where an accomplice would alter or fill in their exam sheets.

Saunders allegedly did this while serving as an assistant coach on the UL-Lafayette football team, but the university’s response to the allegations states it believes Saunders started this scheme before his arrival at the university in 2011.

The NCAA has also alleged Saunders provided improper cash benefits to a student athlete — an allegation the university said it does not believe is sufficiently supported by evidence — as well as providing false or misleading information to the investigation and refusing to comply with the investigation.

After agreeing with most of three of the four major allegations, the university outlined several self-imposed penalties in its response to the allegations. Among them was a vacation of the 2011 football team’s wins, including the school’s New Orleans Bowl win.

The Cajuns generated more than $1 million in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl, with roughly one fourth of that money coming from the SBC via BCS revenue.

Though it’s unclear when the New Orleans Bowl win will officially be struck from the record — the trophy from the game, as of last week, was still on display in the Athletics Performance Center — the Cajuns will not be on the hook to pay back any of that money to the SBC.

“The Sun Belt does not have any jurisdiction, we don’t have any policies that address any penalties that would follow any NCAA violation,” Benson said. “We defer to the NCAA, and we’ll wait for that process to be concluded.”

When it came down to addressing the violations themselves, Benson said he hoped it was a learning experience for the school and others in the SBC.

“I’ve been part of three different conferences in the last 25 years and have seen enforcement proceedings,” Benson said. “It’s a process that, whether you’re the university involved or the conference involved, you’re always wanting it to get over with and move forward.

“In my experience, it shows that once the university goes through this type of experience, that they come out of it with a better policy in place and stronger oversight.

“I am confident in president (Joeseph) Savoie and (Athletic Director) Scott Farmer are committed to making sure this doesn’t happen again. That’s the positive outcome, that you get through it and it’s the last time you’ll ever have to deal with it.”