NCAA puts LSU football on probation, accepts school’s self-imposed penalties for recruiting violations

The NCAA placed LSU’s football program on one-year probation and filed a three-year empanelment against a former assistant coach who admitted meeting with a prospect and giving him team gear during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period.

The Tigers said they fired offensive line coach James Cregg in June 2021 after he admitted to violating NCAA rules. On Aug. 25, a Louisiana judge awarded him nearly $500,000 after ruling that LSU terminated his contract without cause. The university said at the time that it planned to appeal the judge’s decision.

In addition to the probation, LSU had already imposed a self-imposed $5,000 fine, a one-week no-contact ban and recruiting unofficial visits, as well as a reduction in official visits and evaluation days.

LSU said in a statement: “Today’s decision by the NCAA Committee on Infractions involving a former LSU assistant football coach concludes a 21-month collaborative process between the university and the NCAA. Throughout this process, the university has worked with enforcement staff to determine the truth and impose sanctions ourselves. We are grateful to the committee and enforcement staff for work and agreeing to our self-imposed penalties, and we are pleased to be able to move forward as an institution and as a football LSU continues to go through the IARP process regarding other allegations of rule violations.”

While the violations were not egregious in nature, their timing during the pandemic was a major concern for the NCAA investigation.

“Although [committee] has faced harsher behavior in the past, the violations in this case are intentional misconduct that should be of concern to the membership,” the NCAA Committee on Infractions said in its decision. “The COVID-19 recruiting dead period was designed to protect the health and safety of prospects, student-athletes and institutional employees. It also leveled the playing field for recruitment at a time when government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions varied from country to country.

According to the NCAA’s report of violations, the prospect’s mother arranged for a group of 14 students to make an unofficial visit to LSU’s campus in September 2020, which was allowed under NCAA rules at the time. The report said LSU officials met with football coaches, including Cregg, “emphasizing that the staff cannot have personal contact with recruits.”

The NCAA report said the prospect’s mother planned to move to Baton Rouge, Louisiana while her son attended LSU. He asked for recommendations on possible neighborhoods to visit.

“The former assistant coach recommended several neighborhoods, including his own, provided directions to his neighborhood, and arranged to greet a potential prospect and his family as he drove through the neighborhood, in violation of the dead period rules,” the NCAA report said. “During that meeting with the prospect and his family, the assistant coach gave the prospect a bag of used LSU gear he had collected from his house before he left, in violation of NCAA rules prohibiting recruiting inducements.”

The following weekend, an assistant director of recruiting picked up the prospect and his girlfriend from a hotel and drove them on a tour of Tiger Stadium, according to the NCAA report. The NCAA report states that “the prospect and his family again drove through the former assistant coach’s neighborhood. The assistant coach was in contact with the prospect’s mother as they approached and stopped outside her home to meet with the family for a brief conversation — another violation of the NCAA’s rules for personal contact during timeouts. “

The NCAA said the assistant director of recruiting later returned to the prospect’s hotel and gave him used LSU gear. The NCAA said the assistant director of recruiting violated the NCAA’s rules on personal contact during a dead period, legitimate coaches’ rules for off-campus recruiting contact by a non-coaching staff member and the impermissible benefits rules.

Cregg’s misconduct case was not part of the NCAA’s ongoing investigation into the LSU football and men’s basketball programs, which will be decided through an independent accountability process.

On March 8, the university was notified of the charges, which included eight alleged Level I policy violations. Seven are reportedly affiliated with the men’s basketball program. One specifically pertains to football, and the two sports allege that “the institution failed to exercise institutional control and oversight over the conduct and management of its football and men’s basketball programs.”

There were also two Level II charges – one for football and one for basketball – and one Level III charge for football.

The Tigers fired men’s basketball coach Will Wade on March 12 after being charged with five Level I and one Level II violations.

According to documents obtained by ESPN in August 2020, NCAA enforcement officials were informed that Wade “arranged, offered and/or made impermissible payments, including cash payments, to at least 11 prospective men’s basketball student-athletes, their family members and individuals related to prospects and/or with non-teaching coaches in exchange for enrolling prospects at LSU.”

The LSU football program is also accused of three violations, including a Level I indictment involving a Tigers booster who embezzled more than $500,000 from a hospital foundation and gave some of the stolen money to the parents of two former LSU football players.

The Tigers are charged with a Level II violation involving NFL free agent wideout Odell Beckham Jr., the former LSU star who gave $2,000 in cash to four Tigers football players on the field after the team’s 42-25 college win over Clemson. Football Playoff Championship January 2020.

Cregg, now an assistant offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers, helped lead the Tigers to the College Football Playoff national title in 2019. His unit won the Joe Moore Award as the top offensive line in the FBS that season.

ESPN Senior Writer Pete Thamel contributed to this report.