NCAA drops hammer on GT
Kelly Quinlan
ATLANTA -- The NCAA announced the finding from a probe of the Georgia Tech football and basketball programs relating to issues involving players from the 2009 ACC Championship and improper basketball recruiting under former head coach Paul Hewitt. The news was not good for the Yellow Jacket faithful, as the NCAA is looking for the football program to vacate the 2009 ACC Championship. The Yellow Jackets are facing four years of probation, a loss of their 2009 football ACC title, limitations of their basketball official visits to 10 for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, and a loss of two recruiting days. Georgia Tech, which will be on probation from July 14, 2011, to July 13, 2015, also received a $100,000 fine. Georgia Tech president G.P. "Bud" Peterson responded to the NCAA allegations in a press release. "Georgia Tech is committed to the integrity of its athletics program, including full cooperation and support of the NCAA," Peterson said. "Given the information we had at the time, I believe we took reasonable and appropriate steps to determine the proper course of action and acted in good faith. Looking back, there are things we could have done differently. Because of our unwavering commitment to NCAA compliance, we have already taken a number of steps to address perceived shortcomings, hopefully ensuring that our programs remain beyond reproach." The Yellow Jackets could appeal the loss of the ACC Championship title, which they claimed when they beat Clemson 39-34 in Tampa to win their first outright ACC title since 1990. The reason the Jackets were stripped of the title was because of their interference with the investigation, according to NCAA. NCAA investigators hinted the football allegations would have been secondary violations had the Jackets fully cooperated. According to a Notice of Allegations dated Dec. 21, 2010, two Georgia Tech players -- Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas -- were each given $312 worth of clothing from Herbert Hilliard, an employee of RFL Sports Inc and a friend of then Georgia Tech football player Calvin Booker. The NCAA accused assistant athletics director of compliance Paul Parker of failure to protect the integrity of the investigation and violating the NCAA cooperative principle. The NCAA alleged that after receiving those gifts of clothing, both players should have been held out of competition. Their participation in the final three games of the season led to sanctions levied by the NCAA. The other aspect of the NCAA report involved a basketball graduate assistant acting as an event operator and gym manager for the 2009 and 2010 Wallace Prather Jr. Memorial Classic, a non-scholastic basketball tournament involving prospects. The assistant allegedly observed and scouted from the event and reported to the Georgia Tech basketball staff. "We acted in good faith during the 20-month investigation and we do not think anyone took actions with deliberate intent to impede the investigation," Peterson said. On the failure to cooperate, Radakovich spoke with Coach Johnson leading to the charge of influencing the NCAA investigation. "I made the decision to talk to Paul for the following reasons. Number one, experience, I had circumstance with the agents, amateur and gambling staff only a few months early with both the head coach and student athletes were engaged in the process of investigation. Secondly trust, I have a very honest and open relationship with Coach Johnson. One of the reasons he was hired and he is our head football coach is that he is a man of impeccable character. Thirdly data, in our initial communication with our compliance office the NCAA wished to discuss with our players the receipt of gifts relating to a cell phone and the issuance of complimentary tickets by a student athlete to people who may be associated with agents. Understanding both of those items are permanent I decided that informing the head football coach that the NCAA wanted to interview those players for getting impermissible benefits was not compromising the investigation in any way. Any last the reality, since the compliance director needed to set up a meeting with the players, those players would have directly gone to the head coach after being informed a meeting was requested. If Paul did not have advanced knowledge he would have no way to respond to that student athlete under his care. If I had not spoken to Paul he would have gone to me and asked why I didn't give him the information prior to the student athlete speaking with him. As athletic director I should have contacted the NCAA investigator and then had the conversation with Paul. However there is no one in our organization that thinks this has any bearing on the testimony of this student athlete." Georgia Tech has banned Booker from campus and he is not allowed around the football program. "During the investigation there were not a lot of answers. We decided to move forward and dissociated him from the program and that is why it is still in effect today," Radakovich said. The investigation began in November of 2009 regarding concerns the NCAA had with the football. The notice of allegations arrived in December of 2010. During the 16-month investigation Georgia Tech had only five days to make a decision regarding the players involved prior to the Georgia game in 2009. "We had a short timetable due to the holiday and we knew the clothing came from a relative so that is permissible," Radakovich said. "That is why we decided to let them play." Georgia Tech's general counsel said there was insufficient evidence to declare the players ineligible according to President Peterson. "We certainly have some issues when it comes to compliance in higher education. Both Dan and I have a relationship with NCAA President Mark Emmert and we hope to resolve these challenges," Peterson said. Coach Johnson's frustration over the sanctions mainly revolves around the fact he was advised to play both Thomas and Burnett by the administration and was not advised to hold them out of the last few games. "I wasn't aware of what was happening because I wasn't involved in the process. I knew they had been interviewed by the NCAA, but I had no idea what was said in the interviews or what was going on," Johnson said. "We found out that Wednesday or Thursday they were eligible to play. We went with the attitude until someone tells us different they were playing. Dan came in on Wednesday and said they are both cleared. We didn't know what was happening because we were not involved in the process. The issues involving the use of ineligible players was compounded because the NCAA issued sanctions Georgia Tech was under in 2009 came from 2005 when Johnson was still the head coach at Navy. "I think our guys are frustrated and I am frustrated along with our coaches. I understand why the administration did what they did given the information they had," he said. "It is frustrating when you are not directly involved and that effects you in such a big way. I am very proud of the way that team played on the field and what they did on the field and it sucks those guys have to have an asterisk or whatever next to what they did with having done nothing wrong, but it is what it is. Life is not always fair and you learn from things." Ultimately Thomas was declared ineligible for the final three games of the 2009 season while Burnett was exonerated. Using Thomas in the ACC Championship led the NCAA stripping Tech of their championship. Moving forward Johnson will use the lessons learned from this situation to motivate his team to win another ACC Championship. "I am proud of our guys for what they did on the field and they can't take that away. People watched the game and we will try to win another one," Johnson said. "They are hard to win, but we will try to gear up and get our team back there to win another championship." Georgia Tech has until July 28, 2011, to file an appeal to the NCAA findings. 7-Day Free Trial: Get Premium Access to JacketsOnline.com