Memphis’ Hardaway gets 3-game suspension for recruiting violations

Published 7:25 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Associated Press

An NCAA infractions panel handed a three-game suspension to Memphis coach Penny Hardaway on Wednesday for recruiting violations tied to two in-home visits with a prospect two years ago.

The penalty follows a negotiated resolution in December that allowed the school to resolve the case and begin probation while one individual challenged the level of charges from the allegations. That turned out to be Hardaway, the former Memphis and NBA star who was charged under rules governing head-coach responsibility for conduct within their programs.

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An assistant coach first visited the prospect from Dallas in September 2021 at his home, followed by Hardaway roughly two weeks later. NCAA rules prohibited in-home visits for juniors except for April of that year, with those visits supposed to take place at the prospect’s current school.

Hardaway will miss the first three games of the 2023-24 season that starts in November. He had told the NCAA he was unaware of the rule.

“Ignorance of the rules is not an excuse,” the panel said. “The head coach’s inattentiveness to compliance — particularly at a time when his program was under scrutiny related to a different infractions case — resulted in careless violations.”

The school had been dealing with a separate NCAA probe from 2019 tied to the recruitment and short college stay of one-and-done center James Wiseman. That case ultimately led to the NCAA — through its newly formed Independent Accountability Resolution Process — punishing Memphis with three years of probation, a public reprimand and a fine but without a postseason ban or individual punishment for Hardaway.

Don Jackson, an Alabama-based attorney who worked with Hardaway, called the ruling “flawed, yet predictable.”

“This case was pursued for one reason (and one reason only): because of the Enforcement Staff’s dissatisfaction with the outcome of the IRP decision of last fall,” Jackson said in a statement. “A decision will be made in the coming days on whether to appeal.”

In its statement, Memphis said school officials “strongly believe Coach Hardaway never intentionally committed a violation.”

“We will learn from this incident and be even more diligent in our education and monitoring,” the school said. “Now that the entirety of this case is finalized, we will move forward in support of Coach Hardaway and our men’s basketball program, as we do all our programs.”

Both home visits lasted roughly 15 minutes, with the visit by the assistant originally slated to take place at the high school but relocated to the home “due to scheduling issues,” according to the panel’s report.

Hardaway’s visit came as he traveled to visit a different prospect in the area, as well as to see his son play in a basketball tournament and attend a golf outing with friends. The family posted a photo with Hardaway on social media, which ultimately triggered the investigation.

During the case, the NCAA said, Hardaway “attempted to deflect blame” by arguing that the newly promoted director of recruiting had incorrectly logged the prospect’s year into the program’s compliance software, which could have flagged a violation. Hardaway had assumed the recruiting director had been trained on the system but never verified, and said during the infractions hearing that “it was not his responsibility” to secure the training, according to the report.

Akron President Gary Miller, the panel’s chief hearing officer, called the violations “relatively limited in nature” but that they provided a recruiting advantage for Memphis by distinguishing it from other schools that had followed the rule on home visits.

“Head coaches are expected to monitor their staff and promote compliance, including regularly consulting with compliance to ensure recruiting activities are permissible,” Miller said in a call with reporters. “This responsibility cannot be delegated to other campus staff.”

Miller said the assistant, who is not identified in the report, had left the university.

Hardaway was hired before the 2018-19 season and has led the Tigers to five consecutive 20-win seasons (110-52 overall), the 2021 NIT title, the 2023 American Athletic Conference Tournament championship and two straight trips to the NCAA Tournament.

The Memphis case is the second to be completed through a new NCAA approach to more quickly resolve infractions cases. Specifically, it allows cases to be separated so one party can resolve allegations and begin any sanctions while another involved party could still challenge elements of the case.

Previously, cases could be held up by one involved party contesting an allegation while all others involved were in agreement.

The first came in September with a negotiated resolution with Air Force regarding football violations. Miller called the new process “effective and efficient” in its limited use so far.