The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recently handed down one of the strictest penalties it has ever levied on Donnie Tyndall, the head coach of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) men’s basketball team.
The athletic group says Tyndall organized a cheating ring to help recruits satisfy academic standards, even flying graduate student assistants to the recruits’ homes to complete their online coursework.The NCAA slapped Tyndall with a 10-year show-cause order, which effectively prevents him from working in the NCAA for that time period, according to the Washington Post.
That’s the longest show-cause order the NCAA has ever handed out and its length is likely due to the fact that Tyndall and several of his colleagues denied their involvement to the NCAA until the organization’s enforcement staff discovered oddities in the metadata from the online coursework, tipping them off to a coverup.
In a Public Infractions Decision (PDF) released on Friday, the NCAA said that Tyndall began finding ways to help students cheat only six weeks after starting as head coach at USM. Ultimately, Tyndall, two assistant coaches, and two graduate student assistant managers helped seven prospective players cheat on online classes. “A majority of the prospects used the credits to attain immediate eligibility for competition upon their transfer to the institution,” the decision stated.
The NCAA got a tip in August 2014 that there may have been cheating involved on the men’s basketball team.
According to the association’s decision, Tyndall flew the graduate assistants and one or more of his assistant coaches to wherever the struggling student athlete was located to complete the student’s online coursework—seemingly an attempt to game the courses’ metadata and reflect that the recruits were completing their homework in a geographically believable area.
But the plan was not carried out entirely consistently. “At other times, the staff members completed the work while in locations other than where the prospects were physically located,” the report noted.
The NCAA alleges that the staff members kept Tyndall apprised of the online coursework they completed for the recruits in private meetings.
The infractions began with “student-athlete 1,” who apparently needed nine hours of transferrable credits to be eligible to play in NCAA Division 1.
Both graduate assistants were sent out to help the student complete his online courses, which included two English courses and a math course.
When NCAA’s enforcement staff later began questioning one of the assistant coaches, he ratted out the two graduate assistants.
The NCAA then questioned one of the graduate assistants (called “graduate assistant A” in the NCAA decision), and he denied involvement.
But the NCAA’s report said that “after the enforcement staff confronted [the graduate assistant] with computer metadata, he admitted doing ‘some assignments’ and knowing that his actions constituted NCAA rules violations.
Computer metadata confirmed that he authored six of student-athlete 1’s English assignments.”
Similar discoveries were made in the metadata of other student athletes’ online coursework.
In another instance, an IP address “associated with graduate assistant B’s Pennsylvania hometown” was found to have submitted online coursework for a student in the town where one student-athlete was living, during a period in which graduate assistant B was traveling to that town.
The report goes on to recount that the cheating wasn’t even disguised that well:
Student-athlete 7 was enrolled at a two-year institution in Florida.
According to his coach, student-athlete 7, a weak student, ‘was as far away from graduating as any kid I’ve ever had that did graduate.’ In the spring and summer 2013 semesters, student-athlete 7 was enrolled in 10 three-hour courses at his two-year institution and four online courses (one English, two Math and a Psychology course).
In spite of an approximately 2.2 grade-point average (GPA) in his two years of on-campus work, student-athlete 7 managed three grades of ‘A’ and one ‘B’ for a GPA of 3.75 in his online courses from another institution.
Although student-athlete 7 denied that any cheating had taken place, the assistant coach said he had driven graduate assistant B to the vicinity of the student’s school, where the grad student completed the student’s online coursework. “The computer metadata matched the computer used to submit some of student-athlete 7’s math assignments to the same computer from which student-athlete 6’s coursework originated,” the report stated. “That computer’s IP address is in graduate assistant B’s Pennsylvania hometown (which is not student-athlete 7’s hometown).”
The metadata also apparently showed that graduate assistant B’s mother had completed some of the online math coursework, and then graduate assistant B modified it.
And his mom wasn’t the only person in on the gig—the metadata for the online coursework also showed that a friend of the two graduate assistants had been completing and modifying psychology and English coursework as well.
The friend was discovered because she went by the online alias Rockabuskie, and the metadata for the coursework showed her as the author or modifier on many assignments. Rockabuskie was also Jamaican, and some of the assignments appeared to be submitted from Jamaica.
In some cases, Tyndall is accused of coordinating with high school coaches to give cash and prepaid cards to student athletes, including one student who would occasionally live with his coach due to family circumstances.
But the generosity didn’t always pay off.
In one case, Tyndall reportedly sent graduate assistant A out to California to help a student complete his online coursework and even had the assistant meet with the student in a hotel room to help him prepare for a public speaking class.
After the coursework was completed, Tyndall gave the graduate assistant extra travel time “as a ‘reward’ for a job well done.” But the student who received all this help never enrolled at USM.
The cheating eventually became more elaborate and less careful—student-athlete 8 had 75 assignments completed by graduate assistant A, who “submitted the assignments from Hattiesburg and elsewhere at times when student-athlete 8 was not in those locations,” the decision noted.
As the NCAA’s enforcement division began investigating the alleged cheating, Tyndall began deleting information related to the case.
Between August and November 2014, the decision said, Tyndall “participated in numerous phone and text conversations with individuals involved in the investigation at significant times, often using a cell phone registered in his mother’s name that he did not divulge until his third interview.”
Tyndall also allegedly “deleted all e-mails from an account associated with another institution, even though he was aware that the e-mails were relevant to the investigation and would be of interest to the enforcement staff.”
The NCAA gave the assistants that Tyndall worked with two- to eight-year show-cause orders, essentially barring them from working with NCAA schools.
According to the Washington Post, “The Southern Miss men’s basketball program itself was also punished, though it already has served a self-imposed two-year postseason ban.
In announcing its punishments Friday, the NCAA said that two-year ban was sufficient, though it did impose a three-year probation sentence that begins in January 2017.”