LSU hit with NCAA penalties for violating recruiting rules during pandemic

LSU was hit with NCAA penalties on Thursday, but they weren’t related to the scandal involving former men's basketball head coach Will Wade.

Instead, the case surrounds former football assistant coach James Cregg, who was fired in June 2021. Cregg, who served as the Tigers’ offensive line coach, met with a recruit during the NCAA-mandated dead period during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the NCAA.

In addition to Cregg, a former assistant director of recruiting for LSU separately met with the prospect during that dead period. Both "provided the prospect with impermissible recruiting inducements," according to the NCAA.

As a result, LSU has been hit with one year of probation, a $5,000 fine and an array of recruiting penalties for the football program. Those include a limit on official visits to 55, a one-week prohibition of unofficial visits, a one-week prohibition of recruiting communications and a seven-day reduction in evaluation days.

Additionally, the NCAA issued Cregg a three-year show-cause penalty.

Cregg served as LSU’s offensive line coach for three seasons, including the Tigers’ national championship season in 2019 under former head coach Ed Orgeron. He is currently an assistant offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

LSU, now in its first season under Brian Kelly, is off to a 2-1 start this season.

The LSU football program is being penalized by the NCAA for unauthorized contact with recruits during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

LSU violated recruiting rules during pandemic

The issues arose for LSU when the mother of a recruit brought 14 prospects to LSU's campus in September 2020. According to the NCAA, the football staff was aware the group was visiting but was informed by compliance staff that they could not have any in-person contact with the recruits.

The mother of one recruit planned to move to the Baton Rouge area if her son chose to play for LSU, so she asked about "potential neighborhoods to visit." Per the NCAA, Cregg recommended several neighborhoods, including the one where he lived, and arranged to "greet the prospect and his family as they drove through the neighborhood." Cregg also "provided the prospect with a bag of used LSU gear" from his home. Greeting the family violated dead period rules while giving the recruit gear violated NCAA rules about recruiting inducements.

A week later, the recruit and his family were back on LSU's campus. During that visit, LSU's former assistant director of recruiting "picked up the prospect and his girlfriend from their hotel and drove them to the stadium for a tour." The assistant director for recruiting later "returned to the prospect's hotel and delivered several items of used LSU gear for the prospect."

That violated the contact rules, and the free transportation and gear are also considered an inducement by NCAA rules.

During the second visit, the prospect and his family also met with Cregg and had "brief conversation" outside of his home.

According to the NCAA, both the coach and assistant recruiting director "acknowledged that they knew their conduct was impermissible."

In a statement, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions panel acknowledged that these violations weren't serious but the fact they took place during the COVID-19 dead period "should be of concern" to NCAA members.

"Although the [committee] has encountered more egregious conduct in past cases, the violations in this case represent intentional misconduct that should be of concern to the membership," the panel said in its decision. "The COVID-19 recruiting dead period was intended to protect the health and safety of prospects, student-athletes and institutional staff. It also leveled the playing field for recruiting at a time when government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions varied across the country."

Cregg involved in lawsuit with LSU

Last month, a Baton Rouge judge ruled that LSU must pay Cregg the remaining salary that was due on his contract, a sum of $492,945.20. The ruling came after Cregg filed a lawsuit claiming his termination for cause by LSU was illegitimate.

According to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, Cregg’s lawsuit acknowledged that the coach told an NCAA enforcement official that “he met with and handed team gear to a prospect during the COVID recruiting dead period.”

After the August ruling was handed down, LSU said in a statement it planned to appeal the decision.

From the Daily Advertiser:

“We are clearly disappointed in the court’s ruling. We had a coach admit to the NCAA under oath that he contacted and gave athletic gear to a recruit despite being advised by compliance staff of an existing no-contact period with recruits," the release states. "We had a contractual right and obligation to terminate this coach’s contract. Unfortunately, the trial court did not see this the same way. We intend to appeal this decision.”