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Division I Column: What are Level I, II and III Violations?, Part I [Higher-Ed/College Athletics Best Practices Alert (First Quarter 2015)]

Author: Michael L. Buckner, Esquire (Shareholder and President)

NCAA Division I Bylaw 19 classifies rules-violations into four categories: Levels I, II, III and IV. The four-level characterization of rules-violations replaces the old labels of major and secondary violations (Divisions II and III continue to use the former structure). Buckner begins an ongoing series analyzing case-precedent of the Division I Committee on Infractions relating to defining the demarcation between Level I, II and III violations. [Note: A Level IV incidental infraction, which will not be covered in this blog series, is “a minor infraction that is technical in nature and does not constitute a Level III violation” and “generally will not affect eligibility for intercollegiate athletics”.]

As a refresher, Division I Bylaw 19 defines Level I, II and III violations as follows:

  • Division I Bylaw 19.1.1 - Severe Breach of Conduct (Level I Violation). A severe breach of conduct is one or more violations that seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model, as set forth in the constitution and bylaws, including any violation that provides or is intended to provide a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage, or a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit.
  • Division I Bylaw 19.1.2 - Significant Breach of Conduct (Level II Violation). A significant breach of conduct is one or more violations that provide or are intended to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage; include more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit; or involve conduct that may compromise the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model as set forth in the constitution and bylaws.
  • Division I Bylaw 19.1.3 - Breach of Conduct (Level III Violation). A breach of conduct is one or more violations that are isolated or limited in nature; provide no more than a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage; and provide no more than a minimal impermissible benefit.

During the first quarter of 2015, the Division I Committee on Infractions applied Bylaws 19.1.1, 19.1.2 and 19.1.3 to articulate the scope of Level I, II and III violations:

West Virginia University (February 18, 2015): The Committee on Infractions held the institution violated NCAA recruiting communications legislation (Bylaw 13) during the period from June 2010 to January 2013. The violations impacted 14 sports teams. The committee determined Level II violations occurred in four sports and Level III violations occurred in 10 sports. The committee held the “women's gymnastics, football, women's basketball and women's soccer programs engaged in 154, 68, 43 and 46 impermissible communications respectively” and “concluded that the recruiting violations in these programs were Level II ‘significant breach of conduct’ violations because the impermissible texts and telephone calls provided more than a minimal, but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting advantage”. Further, the committee concluded the “men's basketball, baseball, men's soccer, wrestling, women's tennis, women's volleyball, men's swimming, women's diving, women's rowing, and women's track and field programs collectively placed 35 impermissible text messages and made 14 impermissible telephone calls” and determined “the recruiting violations in these programs were Level III ‘breach of conduct’ violations because the impermissible communications were limited in nature and provide no more than a minimal recruiting advantage”. The sports teams with Level III violations with the highest number of impermissible communications were men’s basketball (15 over a two-year period); men’s soccer (seven violations over a five month period); women’s tennis (nine violations over a five-month period). Takeaway: Level II violations of Bylaw 13 communications legislation occur when institutional staff engage in approximately 1.3 or more violations per month (over a period of eight months or more). Further, Level III violations occur when institutional staff engage in approximately 1.4 or less violations per month (over a period of seven months or less).

University of Florida (February 20, 2015): The Committee on Infractions held an assistant football coach “had an impermissible off-campus recruiting contact” (Bylaws 13.02.4 and 13.1.1.1) with a prospective football student-athlete. The committee concluded the “contact occurred on the campus of the prospect's high school during January of the prospect's junior year of high school”. The committee determined “based on the circumstances of this case and the nature of the violation” the violation was a Level II. The committee based its decision on three facts: (1) the assistant coach, who “acknowledged the importance of having the prospect's social media contact information”, used the impermissible contact “to obtain this information so that he could maintain consistent contact with a coveted recruit without having to be concerned about NCAA telephone contact rules or the prospect's changing phone numbers and/or email addresses” through the impermissible contact; (2) the interaction between the prospect and the assistant coach was not inadvertent (the assistant coach was informed by a third party that the prospect would be waiting outside of the school; and upon arrival, “the assistant coach approached the prospect rather than proceeding inside the school to obtain the prospect's information from the school principal”); (3) the assistant coach’s reaction when informed of an NCAA enforcement interview showed “that, at the very least, he realized that something about the contact may have been inappropriate” (the assistant coach contacted the third party “to ask if they had done anything wrong”). Takeaway: The activity described in the case more than likely would have been ruled a secondary case under the former violation structure. However, the Committee on Infractions appears to rely more on the conduct and intent of an involved individual prior to and after the violation under the new structure, and use its analysis to upgrade a one-time occurrence of an illicit activity to a Level II violation.

Syracuse University (March 6, 2015): The Committee on Infractions determined an academic coordinator, who “originally declined to cooperate with the enforcement staff” for a seven-month period, “eventually submitted to an interview and participated in the hearing”. The committee concluded the academic coordinator “failed to uphold her membership obligation to cooperate with the enforcement staff” under NCAA Bylaws 10.1 and 19.2.3. The committee noted “full cooperation is essential to the infractions process” and the academic coordinator’s failure to cooperate “with the enforcement staff's repeated requests” resulted in a failure to fulfill her membership obligation and violated the principles of ethical conduct. However, the committee explained the academic coordinator’s eventual cooperation reduced “what would otherwise have been considered a Level I violation”. Takeaway: The Committee on Infractions will consider post-violation conduct and intent of an involved individual in the determination of the classification of the violation category.

Contact Michael L. Buckner (954-941-1844; mbuckner@bucknersportslaw.com) for more information pertaining to the NCAA enforcement process and decisions of the Division I Committee on Infractions.