For over 5 weeks now, Michigan State University and the family of Max Bullough have remained silent on what caused the MSU captain linebacker to be suspended for the 2014 Rose Bowl. Rumors and speculation have run rampant among Spartan fans and observers. We here at isportsweb cannot confirm what caused Coach Mark Dantonio to suspend Bullough. However, an MSU response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request can now be used to rule out at least some of the speculation and rumors.
isportsweb has learned that MSU did not incur any NCAA violations for November 2013 or December 2013. In a response dated February 4, 2014 to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by isportsweb, Ellen Armentrout, the FOIA Officer & Assistant General Counsel at Michigan State University, said:
“The Intercollegiate Athletics Department advises that no violations occurred to report at any level in the months of November or December, 2013. Hence, no records exist responsive to your request.”
In our FOIA request, isportsweb asked for information regarding “any secondary violations reported by the Michigan State University Athletic Department to the NCAA for the months of November 2013 and December 2013.” We also asked for information on any “Level I and Level II violations” reported during the same time frame.
The response to the FOIA request makes it clear that the Max Bullough suspension was not due to an NCAA violation.
What follows is an explanation (and examples) of major infractions, secondary infractions and Level I, II, III and IV infractions. It’s a lot of information to digest and speaks to the incredibly difficult job that NCAA universities have in policing their own athletic departments.
Historically, there have been two types of violations that an NCAA university could incur: major infractions or secondary violations. Here is how the NCAA defines each:
Major violations usually provide an extensive recruiting or competitive advantage. These infractions are investigated by NCAA enforcement staff and can lead to significant penalties against the school and involved individuals.
Secondary violations are isolated or inadvertent and provide only minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantages. They do not involve significant impermissible recruiting inducements or extra benefits. If a school commits multiple secondary violations, the violations may be collectively considered a major infraction. Secondary violations are usually resolved administratively, occur frequently and are not typically made public.
The first type, Major Infraction Cases, occur very infrequently. According to an isportsweb search of the NCAA Legislative Services Database, there have only been 265 cases across the entire country since 1954. Michigan State University has been involved in three of those, none in the last 18 years:
Nov 5, 1964 – Improper financial aid and transportation; improper recruiting inducements; outside fund, institutional control.
Jan 25, 1976 – Improper transportation; extra benefits; improper recruiting entertainment, inducements and transportation; excessive number of official visits; improper administration of financial aid; eligibility; unethical conduct; questionable practice; institutional control; certification of compliance.
Sep 16, 1996 – Unethical conduct (athletics student advisor assisted student-athletes in obtaining academic credit). Extra benefits (athletics representatives provided cash, employment at a higher wage, meals, travel arrangements for family member, use of an automobile and assistance with an automobile rental). Improper recruiting (athletics representatives provided transportation, cash, tickets to football game, lodging, meals; improper recruiting contacts; two official visits to a prospective student-athlete). Lack of Institutional Control. Secondary Violations.
Since the enforcement process for infractions began, major and secondary were the only two labels applied to violations. However, effective August 1, 2013, the NCAA — led by MSU president and Executive Committee chair Lou Anna K. Simon — moved to a four-level violation structure for Division I infractions, replacing the previous two-tier approach. This new model purportedly allows for more flexibility of defining the severity of the cases as well as a “consistent alignment of consequences” with the wrongdoing that occurred.
Here is how the NCAA describes the new structure:
The four-level violation structure ranges from severe breaches of conduct to incidental infractions. The structure, which replaces the current two-tier approach (major and secondary violations), is designed to focus most on conduct breaches that seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA Constitution and bylaws.
“Having four levels of violations is helpful because it allows us to distinguish between severe and significant in the new structure as opposed to simply major and secondary violations in the previous model.” - Oregon State President Ed Ray.
Level I violations are considered severe breach of conduct and are defined as follows:
Violations that seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA collegiate model as set forth in the Constitution and bylaws, 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.
According to NCAA bylaw 19.1.1, examples of Level I violations are as follows:
- Lack of institutional control;
- Academic fraud;
- Failure to cooperate in an NCAA enforcement investigation;
- Individual unethical or dishonest conduct, regardless of whether the underlying institutional violations are considered Level I;
- A bylaw 18.104.22.168 violation by a head coach resulting from an underlying Level I violation by an individual within the sport program;
- Cash payment or other benefits provided by a coach, administrator or representative of the institution’s athletics interests intended to secure, or which resulted in, enrollment of a prospective student-athlete;
- Third-party involvement in recruiting violations in which institutional officials knew or should have known about the involvement;
- Intentional violations or reckless indifference to the NCAA constitution and bylaws; or
- Collective Level II and/or Level III violations.
Level II violations are described as a significant breach of conduct. The NCAA explains level II violations as follows:
Violations that provide or are intended to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage; includes more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit; or involves conduct that may compromise the integrity of the NCAA collegiate model as set forth in the Constitution and bylaws.
According to NCAA bylaw 19.1.2, examples of Level II violations are as follows:
- Violations that do not rise to the level of Level I violations and are more serious than Level III violations;
- Failure to monitor (such violations will be presumed Level II but may be deemed to be of a Level I nature if the failure is substantial or egregious);
- Systemic violations that do not amount to a lack of institutional control;
- Multiple recruiting, financial aid, or eligibility violations that do not amount to a lack of institutional control;
- A Bylaw violation by a head coach resulting from an underlying Level II violation by an individual within the sport program; or
- Collective Level III violations.
Level III violations are simply considered a breach of conduct:
Violations that are isolated or limited in nature; provide no more than a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage; and do not include more than a minimal impermissible benefit. Multiple Level IV violations may collectively be considered a breach of conduct.
According to NCAA bylaw 19.1.3, examples of Level III violations are as follows:
- Inadvertent violations that are isolated or limited in nature; or
- Extra-benefit, financial aid, academic eligibility and recruiting violations, provided they do not create more than minimal advantages.
During our research for this story, isportsweb found examples of Level III violations that have been reported by NCAA schools. Here are the examples and the by-laws that they violated:
- Bylaws 11.5.1 and 22.214.171.124.1 — violations regarding impermissible recruiting by certified off-campus recruiters (i.e., evaluation days for impermissible evaluations, contact days for impermissible contacts, recruiting-person days, etc.).
- Bylaw 11.7 — violations regarding the limitation on the number and duties of coaches.
- Bylaw 126.96.36.199 — violations regarding the Amateurism Certification Process.
- Bylaw 12.6 — violations regarding impermissible financial donations from outside organizations.
- Bylaw 13 — violations regarding recruiting such as impermissible in-person, off-campus contact with a prospect prior to July following the completion of the prospect’s junior year in high school (or during a dead, quiet or evaluation period). The NCAA clearly notes that recruiting violations in football and basketball may result in more significant or other penalties as compared with other sports.
- Bylaw 13.1.3 — violations regarding impermissible telephone calls to prospects.
- Bylaw 13.4.1 — violations regarding recruiting materials, mailings, etc.
- Bylaw 188.8.131.52 — violations regarding impermissible electronic transmissions (text messages).
- Bylaw 14 — violations regarding when a student-athlete competes prior to being certified or competes while ineligible.
- Bylaw 15.5.3 — violations regarding equivalency sports team financial aid limit
- Bylaw 17 — violations regarding Playing and Practice Seasons (e.g., exceeding the 20 hour per week limit on practice activities, Mandatory Medical Examination, First Date of Competition, etc)
Level IV violations are incidental issues. The NCAA explains:
Incidental infractions that are inadvertent and isolated, technical in nature and result in a negligible, if any, competitive advantage. Level IV infractions generally will not affect eligibility for intercollegiate athletics.
According to NCAA bylaw 19.1.4, Level IV violations are defined as follows:
An incidental infraction is a minor infraction that is technical in nature and does not constitute a Level III violation. Incidental infractions generally will not affect eligibility for intercollegiate athletics. Multiple or repeated Level IV violations collectively may constitute a Level III violation.
Here is the current list of incidental infractions (Level IV) and the by-law that they violated, according to the NCAA:
Bylaw 11 (Personnel)
- 11.1.5 — Use of Tobacco Products
Bylaw 12 (Amateurism)
- 12.5 — Schedule Cards, Camps, Use of Commercial Trademark/Logo on Equipment/Uniform/Apparel
Bylaw 13 (Recruiting)
- 184.108.40.206.1 — Official Visit Exception
- 13.4 — Printed Recruiting Materials, General Correspondence, Business Cards, Camp or Clinic Brochures, Questionnaires, Nonathletics Institutional Publications, NCAA Educational Material, Game Programs, Pre-enrollment Information, Institutional Note Cards, Postcards, Express Mail Services, Athletics Publication, Media Guide Restrictions, Other Recruiting Materials
- 13.6 — Requirements for Official Visit, NCAA EC, Exception to 48-Hour Period for Extenuating Circumstances
- 13.9.1 — Requirements for Offer of Athletically Related Financial Aid
- 220.127.116.11.2 — Post Signing/Acceptance of Enrollment
Bylaw 14 (Eligibility)
- 14.01.3 — Compliance with Other NCAA and Conference Legislation
- 14.1 — SA Statement: Content and purpose, SA Statement: Administration, Drug-Testing Consent Form, Drug Testing Consent: Administration, Exception – 14-Day Grace Period, Content and Purpose (HIPAA/Buckley Form), Administration (of HIPAA/Buckley form), Eligibility Requirements for Male Students to Practice with Women’s Teams
- 14.5 — Submission of Information Necessary to Determine Academic Initial-Eligibility Status
- 14.10.2 — Squad List Forms
Bylaw 15 (Financial Aid)
- 15.01.5.3 — Effect of Violation of Conference Rule
- 18.104.22.168 — Conformance w/Institutional and Conference Regulations (involving Terms of Institutional FIA)
- 15.5.11 — Squad List Eligibility Requirement; Form; Procedures; Drug-Testing Consent Form Requirement; Exception – 14-Day Grace Period
Bylaw 17 (Playing and Practice Seasons)
- 17.1 — Declaration of Playing Season, Use of Tobacco Products
To be clear, in its response to our FOIA request, Michigan State University has declared that no violations at any level occurred in the months of November 2013 or December 2013. The Bullough suspension press release was received on Thursday, December 26, 2013 at 12:18 AM (EST). Michigan State has said repeatedly that the university will not discuss the Bullough situation any further. Although they have not said so, it is likely that the reason MSU officials will not discuss the details is because to do so would likely violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Also, many reporters and journalists have requested on-the-record interviews with Max Bullough and/or his family – to my knowledge none have been granted.