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Dave Leitao

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association on Tuesday suspended Dave Leitao, the DePaul University head men’s basketball coach, for the first three games of the upcoming season for failing to monitor his staff and making sure they complied with NCAA rules.

Leitao did not commit any direct infractions himself, but the verdict seems to reflect the NCAA’s growing desire for head coaches to take responsibility for misconduct in their programs. The association has been criticized in the past for allowing head coaches to escape punishment. But just this month, the NCAA came down hard on the University of Connecticut head men’s basketball coach for lying during an investigation of free training and free meals provided to UConn athletes by a trainer whose son was a prospect for the university's football team.

The NCAA also put DePaul's Blue Demons on a three-year probation. The case involved a former associate head coach who arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a recruit. The officials and player are not named in the NCAA report.

“The head coach could have stopped or prevented the violations if he promoted an atmosphere of compliance or monitored his staff. Instead, he fostered a culture of silence where multiple staff members did not report or question violations because they feared doing so would hurt their careers,” the NCAA report on the case states.

In 2016, the associate head coach instructed the assistant operations director to travel out of state and live with the team prospect, who was a top recruit who had already graduated high school but had not met the NCAA’s academic requirements.

DePaul had aggressively wooed the recruit, who in April 2016 signed a letter of intent to play for the university. But the associate head coach was worried the prospect wouldn’t complete the online course work that was necessary for him to be eligible to play. The recruit needed to complete 16 to 20 assignments, as well as prepare for midterms and final exams in a single month, but around the time he signed his letter, he had only finished one or two of the assignments. He also had “several distractions” around the house that reduced his productivity, the NCAA report states.

The assistant operations director lived with the recruit for nearly two weeks, limiting his extracurricular activities and making sure he finished his assignments. At least two other staffers -- including the director of basketball operations -- were aware of this arrangement. The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions said it was “troubled” that the director knew the situation was an NCAA violation, but he did not want to be “disloyal” or “cause tension” by reporting it.

The assistant director told NCAA officials that he feared his career would be jeopardized if he undermined the associate head coach and reported to Leitao.

Leitao was initially oblivious to the assistant operations director’s activities and did not ask questions about his two-week absence. He explained to NCAA investigators that the assistant director typically would be away for periods of time to visit family.

"The committee directed that head coaches must verify -- not just trust -- that staff members are following the rules," the NCAA said in a statement.

The prospect eventually successfully completed the course work and enrolled at DePaul in fall 2016.

In addition to Leitao’s punishment, the former associate head coach was slapped with a three-year show-cause order, which essentially makes him unemployable with an NCAA member institution. The games in which the recruit played will be vacated and not be considered part of the team's record. University officials said they will make public at a later date the number of games affected.

The NCAA also levied a $5,000 fine, plus 1 percent of the men’s basketball program budget on the university. DePaul had already self-imposed recruiting-related sanctions, eliminating six men’s basketball recruiting days in the 2017-18 academic year and six more in April. Institutions are only allowed a certain number of days to recruit athletes.

DePaul said in a statement the NCAA’s decision on Leitao was “disappointing.” The university said the incident was “isolated” and gave a single athlete a limited advantage. But DePaul also said it would accept the findings -- indicating it would not appeal.

“Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program,” the statement reads.

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