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 — The NCAA has accused former Louisiana-Lafayette assistant football coach David Saunders of exam fraud and providing recruits payments for living and educational expenses, as well as failing to comply with an NCAA investigation.

“We take the allegations very seriously and have fully cooperated with the investigation,” UL-Lafayette Director of Athletics Scott Farmer said in a statement released Sunday afternoon. “We’ve been committed to finding the truth as much as the NCAA.”

According to the statement released by the school, “university representatives will appear later this fall at a confidential hearing. … Several months following the hearing, the (NCAA’s) Committee on Infractions will publicly issue its decision.”

Until then, the university has self-imposed several penalties, including two years of probation; a total reduction of 11 scholarships between now and the 2017-18 season; a reduction in off-campus recruiting opportunities, official visits and recruiting communications; and vacated contests in which an ineligible student-athlete participated during the 2011 season.

The university indicated it would vacate the entire 2011 football season, including the program’s New Orleans Bowl victory against San Diego State. The school contemplated self-imposing a postseason ban for this season, but “determined that such a penalty would be unduly severe to address violations committed by a single individual that were in no way indicative of systemic, program-wide noncompliance with NCAA rules.”

The NCAA issued four separate allegations against Saunders for engaging in ACT fraud, payment for a recruit’s living and educational expenses ($6,500), providing misleading and/or false information to the NCAA enforcement staff and refusing to provide information relevant to the NCAA investigation.

The first major allegation involved six prospective recruits taking their ACT exams at Wayne County High School in Mississippi, where the NCAA alleged Saunders set up a prospective student-athlete to take his test while also arranging for ACT supervisor Ginny Crager to “complete and/or alter” the answer sheet to receive a better score.

These allegations came to light in December 2013, beginning a lengthy investigation by the NCAA, outside counsel for Louisiana-Lafayette and counsel for Ole Miss, where Saunders previously coached.

In that investigation, a student-athlete reported that Saunders “somehow” affected his exam score, and he also believed Saunders “similarly affected the ACT exam scores of several current or former Louisiana-Lafayette football student-athletes.”

Saunders was interviewed on three occasions and, combining his answers with the available evidence, as well as his refusal to allow ACT to release any payment record bearing his name for prospective student-athletes, the NCAA formed the basis of its third and fourth allegations against Saunders.

In its response to the NCAA, Louisiana-Lafayette “agrees with the majority of the substantive allegation relating to Saunders’ involvement in ACT exam fraud … as well as the accompanying unethical conduct charges related to his responses concerning the violations and conduct during the investigation.”

The university said, based on the available evidence, it did not agree with the second major violation of providing payment for living and educational expenses.

Saunders left the program in November in what initially looked like an abrupt resignation. Head coach Mark Hudspeth said afterward that Saunders’ departure was for “personal reasons, and that’s as far as we’re allowed to say.”

The university’s response to the allegations paints a different picture. On Oct. 2, 2014, the university requested Saunders “to provide a release to ACT to disclose any payment records bearing his name for the student-athletes identified in the case.”

After not hearing a response by Oct. 30, the second such time Saunders and his representation failed to release the information, the university terminated Saunders’ employment.

Shortly after Saunders was terminated, the university found two additional players had taken their ACT exams at Wayne County High. The university requested a third interview with Saunders following this revelation, which Saunders declined, forming the basis of the fourth allegation.