Former Tennessee assistant coach Willie Mack Garza committed major rules violations in the recruitment of prospect Lache Seastrunk more than three years ago, the NCAA said Friday. The case brought additional sanctions for UT and reopened a chapter that many fans thought was finished.
The NCAA infractions committee extended Tennessee’s probation through 2015, reduced the football program’s official visits by four through May and barred the program from giving complimentary tickets to unofficial visitors for the first two games of the 2013 SEC season.
The committee said Garza was guilty of “unethical conduct” and slapped him with a three-year “show-cause” order that severely limits his ability to find another job at an NCAA school.
Tennessee fought the additional sanctions, believing the university had already been punished for infractions committed under former coach Lane Kiffin. But the committee ruled that the violations committed by Garza deserved harsher penalties.
“We will finally close the chapter on the prior actions of members of a previous football coaching staff,” athletic director Dave Hart said in a school release.
Kiffin, who left Tennessee after the 2009 season, was not accused of any wrongdoing in the case, and Garza said no other members of Tennessee’s coaching staff had knowledge of the violations.
The basic facts of the case are undisputed: Willie Lyles, who ran a business called Elite Scouting Service but was described by some as a “handler” for Seastrunk, purchased a plane ticket for Seastrunk and his mother to fly to Knoxville for an unofficial visit on June 19, 2009. Once there, Seastrunk and his mother were provided with impermissible lodging and transportation. Two weeks later, Garza wired $1,500 to Lyles to reimburse him for the cost of the flight.
Seastrunk, who eventually signed with Oregon before transferring to Baylor, is not accused of any wrongdoing.
The NCAA only uncovered evidence of Garza’s payments on Aug. 30, 2011, just six days after the infractions committee had closed another case involving major infractions by Tennessee’s men’s basketball program and secondary violations committed by Kiffin’s staff.
Confronted with the new evidence on Aug. 31, 2011, Garza admitted to his role in the case. He resigned his position at USC a day later citing “personal reasons.”
On Sept. 9, 2011, the NCAA notified Tennessee that it was looking into the new allegations.
Because most of the key facts in the case were never challenged by Tennessee, the NCAA enforcement staff pursued a “summary disposition” of the case, meaning there was no need for a formal hearing.
Tennessee self-imposed several penalties, including a reduction of days in the spring evaluation period. But the infractions committee said that wasn’t good enough.
“The committee did not have a complete picture regarding the violations that were occurring in the football program” in the original case, the NCAA said, and decided to add more decisive punishment in the wake of the new evidence.
Tennessee argued that the penalties suggested by the infractions committee were “unduly harsh” and requested a hearing.
On Oct. 13, while the Tennessee football team was preparing for a game at Mississippi State, the committee heard UT’s case in Sanibel, Fla.
The conclusion was the same: UT still had to pay for Garza’s misdeeds.
“We were disappointed with the initial penalties and appealed on two occasions, in writing and at the hearing in Florida,” UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek said in a statement. “Although we disagree with the additional penalties, we accept the decision of the Committee. I am proud of the stronger compliance structure we have instituted at the University of Tennessee.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.