Doing the Coach a Favor

A professor is caught in the middle of an athletics scandal after he is encouraged by a swimming coach to admit a student into an independent study course as a last-ditch effort to maintain eligibility.

December 17, 2014

The University of Georgia’s much-lauded head swimming and diving coach will sit out nine competitions and be restricted from recruiting for one year after he arranged for a swimmer to enroll in an independent study course as a last-ditch effort to maintain his eligibility, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Tuesday.

While the university determined that no academic fraud was committed by the psychology professor who enrolled the student in the course, the NCAA infractions report helps show how easily instructors can become a part of the tug of war between athletic eligibility and academic integrity.

Last December, a sophomore member of the swim team grew concerned that he might not pass a math course in which he was enrolled. The head coach, Jack Bauerle, and an academic counselor had similar concerns, and the athletic advising staff developed an academic plan for the student. Despite increased tutoring and studying, Bauerle was still concerned about the student’s progress as the semester came to a close, so he created a “safety net” for the swimmer. Bauerle decided to add an independent study course to the student's schedule, even though classes were over for the semester.

When the coach approached the senior associate athletics director for academics and eligibility about the idea, the administrator discouraged Bauerle from pursuing the plan.

But the coach contacted a professor in the psychology department -- who the report identified as an old friend -- and proposed that the instructor enroll the swimmer in a pass/fail independent study course, anyway. The professor, who went unnamed in the NCAA report and who Georgia declined to identify or make available for an interview, agreed and added the class to the student’s fall schedule.

The coach and the professor decided that the sophomore would complete the coursework the following semester, and he would be assigned an incomplete, or “I," grade, in the meantime. The independent study was also an upper-level course, so the professor waived the prerequisites to allow the student to enroll. “According to the head coach, he knew the institution permitted late-add classes,” the report stated. “And he ‘did not ask the professor for special treatment.’ "

The university said that the student was one of 69 students to use the late-add system that semester, and the professor met with the swimmer prior to enrolling him to ensure he understood the amount of work he had to complete. About a week later, however, an academic counselor noticed that the student had been given a final passing, or “S,” grade, prompting the review that ultimately led to the NCAA’s investigation.

The grade was seemingly entered by mistake, the report said, and the “head coach called the psychology professor three times to make a correction and enter ‘I’ instead.”

Georgia conducted its own review of the chain of events to determine if any academic fraud had been committed. In a letter sent to the university’s president in February, Alan Dorsey, the dean of Georgia’s college of arts and sciences, said that it is “more likely than not that the ‘S’ grade awarded by [the professor] was unintentional.” Dorsey said there was a clear understanding between the coach, the professor, and the swimmer that the course would require work.

“As we have concluded that [the professor] entered the ‘S’ grade in error, there is no reason to believe that he fraudulently awarded academic credit,” Dorsey said. “Indeed, all those interviewed agreed that [the student] expected work to be performed before a grade was assigned.”

The NCAA accepted the university’s finding that no academic fraud had been committed, but it noted in its report that the swimmer’s late-add differed from those for other freshmen and sophomores who had used the system. Most of the 10 other underclass students who sought late-add requests did so to transfer between sections of the same course. The swimmer’s late-add was the only one that required the waiving of prerequisites, the report stated.  

The late-add itself was permissible, the NCAA concluded, but the special arrangement – with Bauerle repeatedly contacting the professor in an explicit attempt to ensure eligibility, despite clear instructions not to – was a nonpermissible benefit under NCAA regulations.

“A head coach should demonstrate a commitment to compliance by fostering regular and ongoing communications with athletics department staff,” the report stated. “He or she should discuss key issues or concerns in a sport program and to ensure program resources. He or she is expected to set the tone for what is and is not acceptable conduct. He or she is expected to lead by example. The head coach’s decision-making with regard to the student-athlete in this case failed to demonstrate such leadership.”

Bauerle, who has led the swimming team to six national championships since becoming head coach in 1979, disagrees with the NCAA’s conclusion but, in a statement Tuesday, said he accepts the penalties. “I am relieved the penalties are directed at me and not the swimming and diving program or our student-athletes, as they should not be punished for my mistake,” he said.

When a report was released in October that detailed an athletic scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where 3,100 students enrolled and passed classes they never attended, the university’s chancellor said the fraud may have been avoided if those involved, including at least one prominent professor, had believed in the athletes' academic abilities. Georgia’s infraction pales in comparison to the scale of UNC’s wrongdoing -- which was wrapped up in far more issues than just a lack of faith -- but a similar lesson could be found.

Six days after the Georgia swimmer enrolled in the independent study course, he received a text from his academic counselor. He had passed the math course.


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