The NCAA ruled Thursday that members of Mercer's women’s cross country coaching staff committed recruitment violations and that Mercer failed to monitor its cross country program.
The infractions occurred in fall 2018, during which an international athlete competing in women’s cross country and track and field arrived in Macon, Georgia months prior to her planned spring 2019 enrollment. The former head coach and assistant coach provided the prospective athlete cost-free travel and housing, institutional gear, tickets to home football games and lodging to attend cross country meets, totaling over $1,300 in value.
The prospect was allowed to live with student-athletes and practice with the team before she was enrolled as a student, and the former assistant coach also encouraged both her and current student-athletes to lie when questioned by the university.
In Oct. 2018, two current student-athletes approached the Mercer compliance department with concerns, saying that the prospect had been living with them for free at the direction of the assistant coach. The school then met with the prospect, told her she'd have to pay rent to the two students to continue living with them and offered her a free hotel room for an official visit.
The NCAA report notes that despite learning of the problematic conduct that month, Mercer did not inform the NCAA until June 18, 2019.
The case was classified as Level I - Standard for the school, Level I - Aggravated for the former assistant coach and Level II - Standard for the former head coach.
The NCAA defines Level I violations as a "Severe Breach of Conduct" which "seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model (...) including any violation that provides or is intended to provide a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage, or a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit."
A Level II violation is a "Significant Breach of Conduct" and are defined as less severe than Level I.
The penalties include three years of probation, a one-year postseason ban, a fine and a reduction in the total number of scholarships awarded in women’s cross country and women’s track and field during the 2022-23 academic year.
According to a statement, Mercer alleges that they learned of the violation in 2019 "on the very same day it took place." Their compliance staff then met with the coach guilty of the violation and notified NCAA and also reprimanded him and warned him that another violation would result in his firing.
"The coach nonetheless continued his course of conduct, lied to University investigators, and insisted that his student-athletes conceal what was taking place from the University, a demand that they thankfully ignored," Mercer's statement says.
"The University uncovered his concealment within a matter of weeks, removed the coach from his coaching responsibilities, reported the situation to the Southern Conference, completed its investigation, and after conducting a full forensic audit of the program submitted a final report to the NCAA – a process that was completed within a single academic year."
Mercer "strongly disagrees" on its own Level I infraction, stating that they "exercised appropriate institutional control over the program and successfully uncovered his attempted concealment."
"The University also strongly disagrees with the NCAA’s conclusion that it failed to adequately monitor the women’s cross-country program, even as the NCAA acknowledged and applauded the University’s initial compliance efforts and despite the fact that its monitoring efforts uncovered what was occurring the very day the misconduct began and further uncovered within a matter of weeks the scheme to conceal ongoing misconduct," the statement says.
Read the full NCAA report below, including an explanation of the penalties, all violations and more.