NCAA finally drops hammer on Arizona State football for recruiting violations

The over three-year investigation into recruiting violations by the Arizona State football staff during the COVID pandemic is finally coming to a close, according to an NCAA announcement today that included sanctions against the program.

The agreed-upon penalties include four years of probation for the school, a fine, a self-imposed postseason ban for the 2023 football season (which already had been announced last year), vacating records for contests in which ineligible student-athletes competed, scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions in alignment with the Level I-mitigated classification for the school.

The school disassociated an involved booster for a period of five years. The individuals also agreed to or did not contest show-cause orders ranging from three to 10 years consistent with the Level I-aggravated classifications of their respective violations.

The investigation centered around then-head coach Herm Edwards and associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Antonio Pierce hosting recruits on campus during what was supposed to be a "dead period." Pierce now is head coach of the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders.

The school and four individuals who previously worked in the program have reached an agreement with the NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations as well as the appropriate penalties for those violations. A Committee on Infractions panel has approved the agreement. Two individuals are contesting portions of their cases via written record hearings. After the written record hearing, the committee will release its full decision.

Sep 17, 2022; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head football coach Herm Edwards stands on the sidelines as his team faces the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
Sep 17, 2022; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head football coach Herm Edwards stands on the sidelines as his team faces the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

Violations included in-person recruiting contacts during the COVID-19 dead period, recruiting inducements, impermissible tryouts and tampering.

More layers to the penalties imposed on Arizona State football

The negotiated resolution also involved the parties' agreement that the violations demonstrated unethical conduct by involved individuals and a "head coach responsibility" violation. Several involved individuals also failed to meet their legislated responsibility to cooperate throughout the investigative phase of this case. The school also agreed that it failed to monitor its football program.

The school took several steps to mitigate potential penalties. Among those was a self-imposed bowl ban for 2023 which it announced the week before last season's opening game against Southern Utah. It also limited days it let the staff go on the road for recruiting purposes.

In July 2021 as the investigation took off, four coaches either resigned or were fired. That included Pierce, then offensive coordinator Zak Hill, and position coaches Prentice Gill, Chris Hawkins and Adam Breneman, none of whom have coached college football since then.

Despite those departures, Edwards remained the head coach. It wasn't until the team struggled in 2022 that he was fired from the program three games into his fifth season. He immediately returned to his role as a television analyst for ESPN, a position he held before getting the head job at ASU.

Arizona State's response to the penalties

ASU issued a statement on Friday, that said in part:

"The COVID dead period rules were created not only for the sake of competitive equity but for the safety and well-being of prospective and enrolled student-athletes and their families," ASU President Michael Crow said. "ASU is disappointed and embarrassed by the actions of certain former football staff members who took advantage of a global pandemic to hide their behavior.  "Integrity is a core value of everything we do at Arizona State University and that includes Sun Devil Athletics," Crow said. "ASU took quick and decisive action upon learning of potential violations and cooperated fully with the NCAA from start to finish in a way that the enforcement staff described as a 'model for all institutions to follow.'"

The statement by the NCAA read:

"Arizona State's cooperation throughout the investigation and processing of this case was exemplary, and the cooperation began with the leadership shown by the university president," said Jason Leonard, executive director of athletics compliance at Oklahoma and chief hearing officer for the Committee on Infractions panel. "The school's acceptance of responsibility and decision to self-impose meaningful core penalties is a model for all schools to follow and is consistent with the expectations of the NCAA's infractions program."

The committee will not discuss further details in the case to protect the integrity of the process which is still ongoing. The committee's final decision — including potential violations and penalties for other involved individuals — is still pending.

By separating the cases, the Division I Committee on Infractions permits the school and the other parties to the agreement to immediately begin serving their penalties while awaiting the committee's final decision on the remaining contested portions of the case. That decision will include any findings and penalties pertaining to the two individuals who are processing their cases via written record.

This is the fifth case where the committee has used multiple resolution paths.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: ASU football struck by NCAA with penalties for recruiting violations