ATLANTA — The NCAA put Georgia Tech on four years of probation, fined the school $100,000 and stripped its ACC title game victory from the 2009 football season on Thursday for violations that also included problems in the men's basketball program.
Georgia Tech did not lose scholarships and was not ruled ineligible for postseason games in either sport, but the basketball team had the number of recruiting days and official visits reduced for the next two seasons.
The NCAA vacated the final three games of the football team's 2009 season — a loss to rival Georgia, the Atlantic Coast Conference championship win over Clemson and the Orange Bowl loss to Iowa — for using an ineligible player. It was the Yellow Jackets' first season under coach Paul Johnson.
The NCAA said Georgia Tech should have declared receiver Demaryius Thomas ineligible after he accepted $312 worth of clothing in '09 from former Yellow Jackets quarterback Calvin Booker, who was working for a sports agent at the time. But the investigation took a harder turn against the school when athletic director Dan Radakovich broke NCAA rules by alerting Johnson that Thomas and safety Morgan Burnett would soon be interviewed.
It seemed obvious to the NCAA that Thomas and Burnett were told to prepare answers to questions they would be asked during the interviews. In its 26-page report, the NCAA wrote that it decided not to make a finding of its interview with Burnett after he "consistently denied" accepting free clothing. The NCAA committee on infractions wrote, however, that a violation occurred in regard to Thomas.
"The staff members provided, before the NCAA could conduct their interview, information about what would be discussed in the interview," NCAA committee on infractions chairman Dennis Thomas said. "These actions impeded the enforcement staff investigations and hindered the committee in getting to the truth in this case. Otherwise, this case, as it pertains to the football program, would have been limited to impermissible benefits and preferential treatment violations."
Radakovich defended his decision to tell Johnson that Demaryius Thomas and Burnett would be interviewed, and added that he didn't agree with the findings.
"I think that's where they feel (the investigation) started," Radakovich said. "I've been working with coaches for 25 years, and I think it's important that you have a relationship with coaches. And while in this particular circumstance I should've picked up the telephone and made a call — and I probably could've convinced the (NCAA) individual that this was important for me to do. I've worked with other investigators who wouldn't have had a problem with that, so I think that's part of the other growth and understanding process you go through when you have these issues at hand."
The basketball violations involved a youth basketball tournament held on campus in 2009 and again in 2010. A graduate coaching assistant helped administer both tournaments, violating NCAA prohibitions on scouting, and in 2010 an academic adviser for the team "evaluated prospects and reported his observations" to the coaching staff.
The NCAA said the violations were considered major.
"They were not isolated because the violations occurred over two academic years and involved members of the men's basketball staff," the infractions committee report said. "They were also not inadvertent, as the institution and (former) head men's basketball coach (Paul Hewitt) were aware of its staff members' involvement in the tournament, which had occurred on the campus for a period of 10 years."
According to Peterson, Georgia Tech has yet to decide if it will appeal the decisions. He seemed more concerned that the embarrassment of probation had tainted the school for the second time since 2005.
"We could have been more aggressive in our investigation," Peterson said. "Had we known then what we know now, we could have acted differently. At the time we took appropriate steps, and we acted in good faith."
The NCAA took a different view. It said in its report that Randy Nordin, who served as general counsel at the time for Georgia Tech, "adopted an obstructionist approach." Neither Nordin nor Paul Parker, who served as a compliance officer, still works at Georgia Tech.
Peterson added that Georgia Tech is "very concerned about having to vacate the championship title," but the school has already been in touch with ACC commissioner John Swofford.
"Consistent with NCAA procedures, Georgia Tech will return the championship trophy and the official conference records for 2009 will not designate a champion," Swofford said in a statement. "All ACC record books will be amended accordingly."
Johnson called his players together for a 4 p.m. meeting Thursday to let them know what the school was facing, but later in the day the coach said he had yet to speak with Thomas, a 2010 first-round pick of the Denver Broncos, or Burnett, a third-round pick last year by the Green Bay Packers.
"I know they are both very adamant that they didn't do anything wrong, still to this day," Johnson said. "So it's a tough situation for them as well."
Johnson, who said he has never been involved in an NCAA investigation in 32 years of coaching, indicated that he believed Thomas and Burnett were eligible to play in the last three games of the 2009 season when the NCAA told Radakovich they had been cleared.
"I knew that they had been interviewed and I had no idea what was said in the interviews or what was going on," Johnson said. "We found out actually that Wednesday or Thursday (before the Georgia game) that they were eligible to play, so as far as we were concerned, we went with the attitude that until someone told us differently, they were playing. And then Dan came in and told us they'd been cleared."