Breaking 18 months of silence, Dr. Tom Peterson, former head coach of BYU Men's Volleyball, responds to Tuesday's NCAA announcement of findings based on an investigation involving the Cougar's men's volleyball program.
"Essentially, the university and I were accused of failing to monitor the program for NCAA rules compliance. I deny that accusation," said Peterson.
In Peterson's view, the NCAA findings that certain technical violations occurred does not support the conclusion that the head coach was turning a blind eye. He points to his previously unblemished record of 27 years of NCAA coaching, and to what former assistants, players and administrators describe as the atmosphere of compliance he created.
"The fact that rules were violated in spite of our consistent efforts to foster compliance proves only that even the most conscientious efforts on the part of the head coach are not always enough to prevent players, boosters, and even coaches from technical mistakes," said Peterson.
"The evidence is clear I consulted with the university's compliance officers. I appointed one of my assistant coaches as our program's recruiting coordinator with the assignment of closely monitoring all aspects of recruiting and compliance. We reviewed his recruiting reports in weekly staff meetings and I was consistently assured by him that specific requests and concerns were being taken care of. I also made diligent efforts to personally communicate with players, recruits, and boosters regarding expected behavior. Given my history with and affection for the BYU program," said Peterson, "I did everything I thought was necessary and appropriate to keep the program in compliance."
Both the NCAA and BYU agreed early on that no unethical conduct was displayed by Peterson there were no violations of an intentional nature and nothing that gave BYU an unfair recruiting advantage. The violations were technical in nature.
"All of the allegations that the NCAA chose to pursue stemmed from humanitarian concern for others, and the actions were inadvertent. No one was trying to circumvent rules, and none of the violations gave BYU an unfair recruiting advantage," states Peterson.
For example, BYU and Peterson were accused of recruiting violations in connection with the decision of an individual who moved on his own from Puerto Rico to Provo to seek admittance to the university and membership on its men's volleyball team. (In the NCAA teleconference, Committee on Infractions Chair Jo Potuto misquoted Coach Peterson on the subject of recruiting this player, attributing to him salty language that the Coach did not and does not use.)
Without Peterson's knowledge, a player gave the individual a ride from the airport and, when his housing plans fell through, allowed him to stay at the player's apartment for some weeks. When Peterson saw they were developing a close friendship, he consulted with the compliance office and insisted that both maintain a proper student athlete/potential recruit relationship. Both informed Peterson that they were conforming to this, and Peterson tasked his recruiting coordinator to follow up on the situation.
When it appeared to all that the individual would not qualify to join the team, he sought career employment with a booster, not itself a violation of any rule. In fact, the individual had sought permanent employment only because of a mistake by the NCAA Clearinghouse in initially declaring him ineligible.
Again, Peterson asked the university's compliance officers for guidance, provided the booster with printed regulations, reviewed the pertinent NCAA rules with the booster and the recruit, and made it clear that the individual must be treated no differently from any other employee.
The employer insists, in writing, that he made every attempt to follow the 30 or so pages of rules and guidance provided to him by Peterson, and that he paid a fair wage in U.S. dollars rather than Canadian dollars because the employee had a U.S. work permit. He even made this employee pay room and board during training, a cost not imposed on other employees. The booster acknowledges that he let the employee ride along in the family car on a few trips without charge, a common business practice in a remote, rural town.
Ultimately BYU compliance helped the NCAA Clearinghouse discover its mistake in not qualifying the player early on. However, the rides and the monetary exchange rate somehow persuaded the NCAA that the young man was given preferential treatment.
Peterson acknowledges that he allowed an ecclesiastical leader to lend bicycles to two students who had inquired about and requested help with transportation to get around in Provo. "I take full responsibility for this situation," states Peterson. "The bicycles were never intended to be inducements to players."
Peterson points out that BYU has a unique culture dedicated to service to others, that the ecclesiastical leader had for years provided similar humanitarian aid to other students. The bikes were supposed to be returned for loan to other needy students or charities.
As for $17,000 provided to a second Cuban athlete, Peterson denies any failure to monitor the situation, and does not agree that this matter even belongs in the NCAA investigation. BYU initially agreed.
"I do not know what influenced the university to change its position and join the NCAA allegation against me," said Peterson. "Possibly it was their legal strategy. We did not know who this prospect was, we did not solicit him to come, and the compliance office never identified him as a viable recruit.
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This second Cuban showed up on a booster's doorstep as a refugee who would be deported back to his country but for humanitarian aid. The $17,000 is an eye-catching figure characterized by the NCAA as inducements given by a booster. But virtually all the money identified in this investigation was paid to private legal counsel to have this individual stay in the United States.
"What would any decent person have done?" asks Peterson. "This booster even now believes he did the right thing for this young man, who later joined the LDS Church. The booster told the young man that if he accepted assistance he would not be able to play volleyball for BYU. This defection and assistance given had nothing to do with the recruitment of a volleyball player.