Report: Arizona State, NCAA near resolution on recruiting violation penalties

Feb 1, 2024, 3:37 PM

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards...

Head coach Herm Edwards of the Arizona State Sun Devils watches from the sidelines during the first half of the college football game against the Utah Utes at Sun Devil Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the 38-20. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona State University and the NCAA are close to concluding the negotiations over penalties that will be incurred due to alleged recruiting violations under former head football coach Herm Edwards, reports CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd.

For Arizona State’s football program, it is 960 days and counting since a report broke on June 16, 2021 about recruiting indiscretions under Edwards’ watch.

Dodd adds that ASU is expected to agree that it committed major recruiting violations. Arizona State allegedly invited recruits to campus during a dead period issued during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Sun Devils self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2023 season under first-year head coach Kenny Dillingham hoping to alleviate any additional penalties. Another postseason ban is not expected to be issued, reports Dodd, but recruiting sanctions and fines could be added.

There is also potential for show-cause penalties against Edwards and his former staffers, including then-defensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator and associate head coach Antonio Pierce.

While Pierce is now permanent head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, a show-cause penalty would limit any future return to coaching in college. That would also impact any of the other four assistants who left the Sun Devils before Edwards was fired: Offensive coordinator Zak Hill, who is head coach at Saguaro High School, as well as former tight ends coach Adam Breneman, defensive backs coach Chris Hawkins and receivers coach Prentice Gill.

The school and NCAA are aiming for a negotiated resolution that would be approved if it’s found Arizona State and the Division I Committee on Infractions agree on the violations that occurred, the level of each and the penalties issued.

Arizona State issued its bowl ban shortly before the 2023 season after a similar case at the University of Tennessee concluded the previous July. The university defended the decision at the time, saying it would help Dillingham move on with a clean slate, and it ultimately didn’t penalize a team that went 3-9 and did not qualify for a bowl game.

Edwards, who has returned to broadcasting work for ESPN, has been defended by ASU vice president for university athletics Ray Anderson and school president Michael Crow regarding the NCAA violations, even after his firing. He initially kept his job before being fired following a loss to Eastern Michigan three games into the 2022 season.

Anderson stepped aside last November, citing the changing NCAA landscape for his decision to move on.

He said on a final episode of his podcast that the NCAA’s investigation, which is three years old, did not factor into his decision.

“It wasn’t a factor whatsoever. It wasn’t considered at all,” Anderson said in November. “What I can tell you is that I am very grateful and proud of the way the way the university from the beginning has handled this process. … As a result of how that is handled, what I can tell you personally is that I have great confidence that when this case finally concludes — and very frankly I think that will be in short order — Arizona State football is going to be looking at very clear and very blue skies going forward. I’m very happy in my feeling about that.”

Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel reported in detail more than two years ago that former defensive coordinator, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Antonio Pierce allegedly led the charge in pushing the boundaries of allowing recruits to visit Arizona State’s campus during the dead period over a span of months before recruiting reopened in June 2021.

How he pushed other coaches to do the same, Thamel added, led to disgruntled current and former employees. An anonymous ex-Sun Devil staffer submitted pages of evidence of recruiting violations in a detailed dossier, which sparked the investigation.

Thamel’s sources told him that ASU coaches deliberately and consistently broke rules, and that Edwards met with recruits during the dead period. The evidence that was handed over included a picture of Edwards with a recruit.

What penalties for recruiting violations could be added to the Arizona State football team after a self-postseason ban?

The rival Arizona Wildcats announced a self-imposed postseason ban for their men’s basketball team in 2020 from a case that began in 2017. It took two more years to resolve the matter with the NCAA in December 2022.

All in all, it took 1,905 days spanning when the violations went public to the conclusion of the case, making Arizona State’s case look relatively faster.

While the timeline and the specifics are wildly different, the reasoning for a self-ban in the first place — limiting the additional penalties — was similar.

The conclusion of Arizona basketball’s case saw the NCAA tack on a $5,000 fine, a one-player scholarship reduction for a season and a seven-week recruiting ban.

In that case, the final agreement also led to show-cause penalties for assistant coaches Emanuel “Book” Richardson and Mark Phelps of 10 and two years, respectively, which kept them from coaching in college during that span.

Arizona’s head coach, Sean Miller, was not penalized because the investigation found he “promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored two of his assistant coaches regarding the academic eligibility of men’s basketball prospective student-athletes, rebutting the presumption of head coach responsibility.”

Miller has coached at Xavier since 2022.

All-in-all, the Wildcats’ investigation took five years from September 2017, when Richardson was arrested on fraud charges. That was part of an FBI investigation revolving around evidence in the form of wiretaps, and Richardson ultimately was charged with a 90-day prison sentence.

But the NCAA didn’t submit a notice of allegations to the school until October 2020.

Arizona State’s entire timeline could be resolved in less than three years, though how the evidence was initially submitted likely sped up that timeline. It likely matters that the evidence wasn’t in FBI control, too.

An anonymous coach or coaches submitted to the NCAA evidence against the recruiting practices by ASU in a dossier form.

Twelve members or former members of Arizona State’s football program had spoken to Thamel for his initial story, which broke the news of the NCAA investigation.

From Thamel:

“There’s too many disgruntled people,” said one source. “There’s too many people that have been through that program that are frustrated. It could be any one of 10 people.”

Multiple sources indicated that there were numerous staff members — one estimated a half-dozen — “keeping receipts” on illicit recruiting activity. One said that Pierce fostered an “in or out” culture within the program, which created mistrust and fear as he accumulated power and convinced Edwards to bring in recruiting-focused coaches like defensive backs coach Chris Hawkins and receivers coach Prentice Gill. Neither had on-field experience at a Power Five school. They replaced veteran coaches who Pierce didn’t think recruited well enough.

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