Exam fraud, recruit payments among NCAA accusations against UL-Lafayette, ex-assistant coach David Saunders _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Former Louisiana-Lafayette assistant football coach David Saunders

LAFAYETTE — Former University of Louisiana at Lafayette assistant football coach David Saunders denied to investigators his role in arranging and participating in the alleged fraudulent ACT exams taken by six recruits.

The evidence laid out in an official investigation suggests otherwise, forming the basis of the NCAA’s allegation that Saunders was involved in “individual unethical or dishonest conduct” as outlined in Bylaw 19.3.1 of the NCAA constitution. Essentially, this is the NCAA telling Saunders that, based on the available evidence, it knows he lied.

Saunders’ alleged dishonesty — along with his refusal to cooperate with the investigation in its latter stages — accounts for half the allegations against him and UL-Lafayette.

The first half of the NCAA’s four allegations against Saunders are centered on his alleged scheme to orchestrate exam fraud and him being accused by a former player with providing an illicit cash benefit.

The last two allegations are related to the first two: the NCAA charged that Saunders intentionally provided false or misleading information to the investigation and refused to cooperate with the investigation by both refusing an interview and a request to provide additional records when requested.

The third allegation states that Saunders not only was dishonest about the arrangement of students to take their ACT at Wayne County High School but also that Saunders was dishonest about “engaging in fraudulence or misconduct in connection with the ACTs,” as well as stating that Saunders knowingly provided multiple cash payments to a student.

Based on the evidence, the university did not agree with the last point of that allegation but agreed that the evidence suggested Saunders was not being forthright about arranging for students to take their tests at WCHS or about his involvement in the alleged fraud that took place there.

Saunders was interviewed twice during the course of the investigation: First on Dec. 13, 2013, and on Feb. 25, 2014, according to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations.

UL-Lafayette’s response specifically points out Saunders’ responses in the Feb. 25 interview regarding “communications with (former WCHS ACT administrator Ginny) Crager and his involvement in prospective student-athletes’ testing at WCHS, combined with the evidence gathered throughout the investigation” as forming the basis of Allegation 3.

In the available transcript of that interview, Saunders is asked if he had knowledge of anything improper happening at the testing site with regard to UL-Lafayette recruits or current players, as well as if he had any reason to suspect the scores they earned at the testing site were tainted.

His response to both questions, according to the UL-Lafayette response to the Notice of Allegations: “No.”

According to the testimonies given in the investigation, Saunders communicated the need to take the exam at WCHS to at least two of the players through either family or family friends.

Three others denied speaking directly to Saunders about taking their tests at WCHS, but Saunders phone records indicated repeated contact with at least two of those three while they were in Mississippi to take the test.

In interviews with former UL-Lafayette assistant coach Tim Rebowe and current recruiting coordinator Reed Stringer, both men independently said Saunders suggested WCHS as the exam site for a the sixth student athlete in the report.

As far as Saunders’ knowledge of fraudulent activity at the testing site, the evidence that appears to hurt him the most is his communication with Crager.

According to UL-Lafayette’s response, Saunders said his relationship with Crager was purely to determine open seating and exam dates for WCHS.

His phone records, however, show that he communicated with Crager via text message and phone call in the days leading up to an exam — after some prospective student athletes had already registered for the test.

Because two more cases of potential exam fraud were discovered after the second interview with Saunders, the NCAA enforcement staff requested a third interview with Saunders.

They also requested his cell phone records from Aug. 1, 2014, through Jan. 30, 2015, according to the NCAA Notice of Allegations. The UL-Lafayette response also indicates Saunders was asked to “provide a release to ACT to disclose payment records bearing his name for student-athletes involved in the case.”

Saunders never responded to the request to release records, and his employment was terminated shortly thereafter, according to the UL-Lafayette response.

Through his attorney, Saunders declined two separate requests for a third interview and phone records, forming the basis of the allegation that Saunders violated the NCAA cooperative principle.