College Sports

Sacramento State football hit with NCAA penalties

Marshall Sperbeck, shown during a practice session in 2013, was Sacramento State football coach when the team violated NCAA rules.
Marshall Sperbeck, shown during a practice session in 2013, was Sacramento State football coach when the team violated NCAA rules. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The NCAA on Wednesday placed Sacramento State’s football program on a one-year probation for violations that occurred when Marshall Sperbeck coached the team and Terry Wanless was the athletic director.

The NCAA said the program violated the school’s substance-abuse policy, allowed impermissible recruiting by a former assistant coach and conducted nonvoluntary summer activities. All are considered secondary violations “intended to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial advantage.”

“Additionally, the former head football coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance and was responsible for violations that occurred in his program,” the NCAA said in its report.

Sperbeck, who resigned in April 2014 after seven years as head coach, and the former assistant coach are not identified by the NCAA. Aaron Ingram was Sac State’s recruiting coordinator from 2011 until his resignation in 2014.

The report said during the 2010-11, 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years, Wanless, who also isn’t named in the report, failed to follow the school’s substance-abuse policy when six players were allowed to compete in the next game after “testing positive for banned substances.”

Under an agreement between Sac State and the NCAA, the football program has forfeited one full scholarship for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Sac State reduced by two – from 30 to 28 – the number of offers it made to incoming players for 2014-15 and 2015-16.

As part of Sac State’s self-imposed penalties, coaches also weren’t allowed to recruit off campus during the bye week during the fall of 2014 and 2015; there was a 20 percent reduction to 65 days for the spring 2014 evaluation period; the school did not require participation in summer workouts in 2014 and 2015; and fall and spring football hours were reduced by two hours a week.

The university also was fined $5,000, but the NCAA did not place restrictions on the Hornets’ participation in the playoffs for this season or the next.

“We accept all the penalties – the ones we imposed and the ones imposed by the NCAA,” said Sac State athletic director Bill Macriss. “We made mistakes, and we accept the punishment. The silver lining is that we have improved our checks and balances, increased our compliance staff and will be better through this.”

If Sperbeck returns to coaching at an NCAA school from Nov. 4, 2015, through Nov. 3, 2018, he will have to complete a suspension encompassing 30 percent of one season, according to the report. If the assistant returns to coaching, his recruiting activities “must be restricted.” Sperbeck, now the vice president of development at Jesuit High School, and the assistant accepted the NCAA’s penalties on Oct. 7. Sperbeck would not comment to The Bee on the record.

The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions noted that Sperbeck agreed that he “failed in his head coaching responsibilities” at Sac State.

“He failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance because he participated in and had knowledge of voluntary workout violations and he failed to monitor the former assistant football coach,” the report said.

The NCAA said the assistant coach violated recruiting rules for more than four years when he engaged in impermissible in-person, off-campus contacts and 144 impermissible phone and text contacts to 19 prospects.

“After visiting a number of high schools in 2012 and 2014, the former assistant coach documented the interactions in 2012 and provided a write-up to the former head coach,” the report said. “The former assistant coach acknowledged that he knew when contacting recruits that the calls and texts placed were against NCAA rules, but he continued in an attempt to ‘keep up’ with other schools.”

The NCAA said the football program violated voluntary athletic-related activity rules during the summers of 2010 through 2014 when it required student-athletes to attend workouts. The NCAA said Hornets coaches took attendance and occasionally gave penalties for nonparticipation or late arrivals.

Wanless, Sac State’s AD for 12 years and author of the program’s substance-abuse policy, took responsibility for allowing those athletes who had positive drug tests to continue playing. The NCAA report said Wanless failed to follow Sac State’s – essentially his own – written policy and violated NCAA Bylaw 10.2 when he did not suspend the players for the first game following a first positive drug test and did not cancel for a year the athletic aid for two athletes who tested positive a second time.

“I would point out, the kids didn’t escape punishment but they didn’t miss the next game as the policy is written,” said Wanless, who now lives in Lexington, Ky. “I thought I had the flexibility, and I was acting in the best interest of the student-athlete. I stand behind the decision. There wasn’t anything malicious.”

He lauded the NCAA for its handling of the matter.

“I think the NCAA infractions committee was fair,” Wanless said. “It was a decision made in the best interest of the student-athlete. There isn’t any postseason ban or things like that, so the process works. Some mistakes were made, including my own, by good people. But you have to be accountable for those mistakes.”

As part of Sac State’s corrective actions, it intended to discipline Wanless by making him ineligible for raises or performance bonuses for the 2013-14 fiscal year and requiring him to attend a 2014 NCAA regional rules seminar at his own expense. But Wanless announced his retirement before the completion of the investigation, effective at the end of June in 2014.

After receiving a 10-page anonymous letter, Sac State began an internal investigation in January 2014 and provided the NCAA with results in June 2014. The NCAA began its investigation that September.

The NCAA noted that Sac State has taken 34 corrective actions that included suspensions, admonishments and education of football staff to ensure that similar violations don’t occur in the future.

Macriss said these include hiring of a new assistant athletic compliance director; allocating space for a compliance office and maintaining a presence in the football building to provide on-site support for the football staff; and having football coaches use cellphones with compliance software.

Macriss and Sac State compliance director Katherine Zedonis met with the coaching staff and players after practice Wednesday morning to alert them about the NCAA’s announcement.

“I outlined the nature of the penalties and wanted to let them know that we are committed to having a successful program, but in the right way,” Macriss said.

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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