LSU is self-imposing penalties for rules violations and hoping the NCAA doesn’t levy more.
The school is docking itself eight football scholarships over a two-year period and reducing recruiting visits, evaluations and communication after a nearly two-year investigation uncovered booster payments to the father of a football player, sources tell Sports Illustrated. The school is banning from its facilities for two years ex-LSU receiver and current NFL star Odell Beckham Jr., who distributed $2,000 worth of $100 bills during a wild scene that unfolded on the field following LSU’s win over Clemson in the national championship game in the New Orleans Superdome.
Contacted this week about the news, LSU officials sent to SI a statement on Wednesday.
“LSU has worked proactively and in cooperation with the NCAA to identify and self-report any violations that occurred within our football program,” Robert Munson, LSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, said in the statement. “We believe these self-imposed penalties are appropriate and we will continue to coordinate and cooperate with the NCAA on this matter.”
LSU officials notified the NCAA of its self-imposed sanctions earlier this month, sources said. The program will give up four scholarships in each of the next two years for a total of eight. Teams are normally allowed to have a maximum of 85 players on scholarship per year. The penalties will not impact the team’s ability to sign the maximum of 25 newcomers a year. Recruiting reductions include the elimination of 12.5% of official and unofficial visits, a 21-day reduction of the normal 168 days of allowable off-campus contacts and a six-week ban in communication with prospects.
But the question lingers: Will it be enough to satisfy the NCAA?
According to previous correspondence between the school and NCAA, LSU believes its violations are Level 1 in nature, which is the most serious of the NCAA’s infraction ladder. However, there are three degrees within Level 1: aggravated, standard and mitigated. LSU’s self-imposed penalties are typical for a Level 1 mitigated, which normally does not carry a postseason ban according to the NCAA’s sanction matrix. Aggravated and standard Level 1 violations carry, at the very least, a one-year postseason ban.
LSU and NCAA officials communicated as recently as July about potential penalties. A postseason ban was part of the discussion, sources told SI. The school decided against self-imposing such a stiff penalty. The issue is now in the hands of the NCAA, where it is linked with a simultaneous investigation into the school’s men’s basketball program. The school has not yet received a formal Notice of Allegations from NCAA Enforcement.
The football and basketball cases have been sent to the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) as opposed to the traditional hearing panel, the Committee of Infractions, which is made up of school executives from other NCAA institutions.
In its favor, LSU no longer employs two high-ranking athletic department members, athletic director Joe Alleva and football coach Les Miles, who were in their positions during the booster payments. The booster payments were the most serious of a three-pronged investigation into the program that began in late 2018.
• The father of former offensive lineman Vadal Alexander received $180,000 in stolen money from LSU booster John Paul Funes, who admitted in 2019 that he embezzled more than half a million dollars from Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. The money was payment from 2012 to 2017 for what the NCAA characterized as a “no-show job.”
• Beckham’s cash payments to players immediately after the Tigers won the championship. LSU officials initially told reporters that Beckham was handing out fake money, but later retracted that assertion after quarterback Joe Burrow acknowledged in an interview that the cash was real. LSU said the payments totaled $2,000, a Level III violation.
• An impermissible recruiting contact in January 2019 by LSU coach Ed Orgeron. The school self-imposed recruiting restrictions on Orgeron.
At the heart of the NCAA’s inquiry into the university is another sport entirely. The men’s basketball team and coach Will Wade have been in its crosshairs since opening a probe in September 2018. A July letter from NCAA vice president of enforcement Jon Duncan to the Committee on Infractions said his staff received information that “Mr. Wade arranged for, offered and/or provided impermissible payments, including cash payments, to at least 11 men’s basketball prospective student-athletes, their family members, individuals associated with the prospects and/or non-scholastic coaches in exchange for the prospects’ enrollment at LSU.” SI also has received similar information regarding at least one recruit.
There is disagreement from the two sides—LSU and the NCAA—on the handling of each investigation. LSU wants the NCAA to separate the two, according to correspondence between the two entities. And for a while, the governing body of college athletics had planned to rule on them separately, according to the documents. In fact, the school and the NCAA twice in the last year were nearing what’s termed as a “negotiated resolution” before an event stalled discussion.
That resolution to the Funes investigation was being finalized before Beckham’s post-championship game stunt reopened the case. As recently as mid-July, the football issues, Beckham included, were again nearing a resolution before the NCAA surprised the program by halting negotiations. The NCAA paused its talks with LSU after a similar case with Kansas—also involving both basketball and football investigations—was referred to the IARP as a joint deal, against Kansas’s wishes. A week later, LSU received the NCAA enforcement staff’s request to jointly refer both investigations to the IARP like Kansas, where, coincidentally, Miles is now head coach.
According to documents, LSU officials had been led to believe for more than a year that the football case would be handled separately and swiftly by the NCAA. Documents paint a picture of a frustrated university misled by the governing body. “Unlike the Kansas case, no notice of allegations has (been) issued in either the LSU football or basketball inquiry,” the school says in a response to the NCAA’s request to refer the case from the peer-review route to IARP.
In an Aug. 18 response to the NCAA’s referral request, LSU outlines an assortment of reasons that the two sports should be ruled on separately. It’s in the school’s best interest that they’d be separated. Grouping two Level 1 cases together could result in the NCAA leveling against the university the dreaded “lack of institutional control,” which could further extend penalties. Also, the football investigation is complete, according to the university, while the basketball case is expected to drag on for as long as another year.
“The football inquiry is finished and prepared for resolution,” LSU wrote to the NCAA. “The football inquiry should not sit idle and stall while the basketball inquiry proceeds over the next 6 to 12 months. … Referral of the football inquiry to the IARP based on the alleged actions of the men’s basketball coach is not logical.”