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USF committed NCAA violations under Charlie Strong, Jose Fernandez

Under Strong, the Bulls told staffers when compliance officials were coming so they could stop their impermissible coaching.
USF committed NCAA violations under football coach Charlie Strong, the NCAA announced Friday.
USF committed NCAA violations under football coach Charlie Strong, the NCAA announced Friday. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Oct. 29, 2021|Updated Oct. 29, 2021

USF received three years’ probation, and former football coach Charlie Strong and current women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez both received serious NCAA sanctions for having staffers participate in practices, according to a negotiated resolution announced Friday by the NCAA’s committee on infractions.

Strong, now the assistant head coach with Urban Meyer’s Jacksonville Jaguars, faces a one-game suspension from the NCAA if he returns to the college ranks before the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

Related: How much closer is USF to a breakthrough after ECU loss?

Fernandez, the reigning AAC coach of the year, received a one-year show-cause penalty. That ties him to the violations if he left for another school and requires “enhanced monitoring” and more education.

The negotiated resolution detailed how staff members in both sports broke rules by participating or coaching in practices.

USF broke NCAA rules during practice under Charlie Strong, the NCAA and USF announced Friday.
USF broke NCAA rules during practice under Charlie Strong, the NCAA and USF announced Friday. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

One football staffer — who wasn’t one of the program’s designated on-field assistants — coached up tight ends during the 2018 season. The next season, six other staffers who weren’t allowed to coach did so anyway. One led special teams drills and film evaluation. Three others regularly participated on the scout team, and two occasionally coached players during practice.

The program even had a scheme to avoid detection. According to the resolution, an equipment staffer alerted colleagues through radio headsets if compliance officials were on their way. The rest of the equipment staff would then tell the noncoaching staff members that compliance was coming so they could stop their impermissible acts.

The violations took place despite USF submitting similar violations to the NCAA previously under Strong, in August of 2017 and the next March. The resolution concluded that Strong failed to monitor his staff and did not promote an atmosphere of compliance.

Strong went 21-16 with the Bulls before being fired after the ‘19 season.

Related: What USF football can learn from this round of AAC expansion

As part of USF’s punishments, the Bulls lose two initial football scholarships for the 2022-23 academic year. That means they can only take 23 new scholarship players instead of 25.

“USF athletics places great emphasis on and is committed to the highest level of integrity and NCAA rules compliance,” athletic director Michael Kelly said in a statement. “While I am disappointed to have discovered actions that did not uphold these values, I am pleased with the professionalism and speed with which our compliance and administrative staff self-reported and collaborated with the NCAA for a thorough review. I believe we have a strong culture of compliance at USF. As such, we will use this as an opportunity to learn and improve as a department as we continue to pursue best practices and the highest standards of compliance.”

The women’s basketball team’s violations were similar.

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez received a one-year show-cause penalty for NCAA violations.
USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez received a one-year show-cause penalty for NCAA violations. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Two non-coaching staffers participated in walk-throughs, despite USF previously reporting similar violations in February 2018. Those staffers simulated opponents on the scout team and impermissibly participated in other drills.

The Bulls also required players to shoot 50 free throws a day and required some of them to complete more cardio workouts, which put them over the NCAA’s time limits.

Those violations led to the conclusion that Fernandez, like Strong, failed to monitor his program and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance. Fernandez won’t be allowed at 15 hours of practices this season as part of his punishment, and his team loses 12 practice hours this season.

Fernandez led the Bulls to the program’s first AAC championship last season, and USF is the favorite to win the conference this season.

“As the head coach of the USF women’s basketball program for the last 22 years, I have taken great pride in leading a program that has continuously displayed a high level of compliance and integrity,” Fernandez said. “While these were isolated incidents, I appreciate the NCAA’s diligence in this inquiry and take full responsibility. I will continue to work closely with our compliance department to ensure our program maintains a level of compliance that aligns with the NCAA’s high ethical standards.”

USF must also pay a $10,000 fine plus ½-percent of the budgets for both the football and women’s basketball programs.

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