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College Sports, Division I, Education

Yahoo! Sports Blog: USC’s Kiffin’s Alleged Text to ESPN Reporter Could Lead to Secondary Violation

Graham Watson published a blog post on Yahoo! Sports reporting USC head football coach Lane Kiffin’s involvement in a possible secondary violation of NCAA recruiting legislation. Specifically, Watson stated “around 8:30 a.m. on the USC campus, ESPN reporter Shelley Smith recounted a text message she had received from Kiffin about three hours earlier on the air, and possibly walked the Trojans right into a secondary recruiting violation”. Watson also quoted Smith’s on-air reporting:

“I got a text from Lane Kiffin at 5:15 this morning telling me to wake up, it was a big day and then I got a second text saying, ‘We need to get Nelson,'” Smith said live on ESPNU. “Now, I’m not sure what last name because he didn’t tell me that, there are a lot of Nelson’s out there, but I’m going to guess that it’s Nelson Agholor, a very highly talented athlete out of Tampa, Florida. He is expected to sign either with Florida or with USC in the next 45 minutes.”

Watson is correct concerning NCAA legislation restricting the public announcement of the signing of a prospective student-athlete. If the facts are true (and, at this point, this is an allegation), USC may be facing a Level II secondary violation—which is equivalent to a low-grade minor infraction. It should not impact USC’s probation or current sanctions.

For rules-education purposes, the following NCAA rules (among others) may be applicable:

NCAA Bylaw 13.10.7 – Intent to Enroll.

A member institution shall not publicize (or arrange for publicity of) a prospective student-athlete’s intention to accept its offer of financial assistance. [D] (Revised: 1/14/97)

NCAA Bylaw 13.10.2 – Comments Before Signing.

Before the signing of a prospective student-athlete to a National Letter of Intent or an institution’s written offer of admission and/or financial aid, a member institution may comment publicly only to the extent of confirming its recruitment of the prospective student-athlete. The institution may not comment generally about the prospective student-athlete’s ability or the contribution that the prospective student-athlete might make to the institution’s team; further, the institution is precluded from commenting in any manner as to the likelihood of the prospective student-athlete’s signing with that institution. [D] (Revised: 1/14/97)

NCAA Bylaw 13.10.9 – Media Releases Regarding Signing.

Publicity released by an institution concerning a prospective student-athlete’s commitment to attend the institution shall occur only after the prospective student-athlete has signed a National Letter of Intent or after the prospective student-athlete’s signed acceptance of the institution’s written offer of admission and/or financial aid.  Such communications (with no limit on number or content) may be released to media outlets at the institution’s discretion except as limited by Bylaw  However, an institution is prohibited from purchasing or receiving commercial advertising (e.g., print, media or billboard) to be used to identify a prospective student-athlete by name or picture. [D] (Revised: 1/14/97, 4/29/04 effective 8/1/04, 8/25/04)

The bylaws listed above were cited in a secondary infractions case involving the release of football prospective student-athletes in a media story prior to the prospects signing the National Letter of Intent (NLI):

Secondary Case No. 47865 (February 16, 2011)

Division: I

Involved Sports: Football

Facts: PSAs’ names were released in a story to media prior to the PSAs signing an NLI with the institution.

Additional Facts: Level II

Institution Action: Institution immediately withdrew the release to the media, removed from athletic department website and contacted the conference to remove from conference website. Letter of admonishment issued to involved staff member (SID).

Enforcement Action: Filed.

Eligibility Action: STAFF: None listed.

Rationale: STAFF: None listed.

The Michael L. Buckner Law Firm recommends NCAA member institutions remind coaching staff members of the NCAA restrictions on public announcements of prospects prior to and after the signing of NLIs.


About Michael L. Buckner, Esquire

An attorney who provides clients with internal investigation, civil litigation, estate planning and compliance services.


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