The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) caught a cheating coach, and metadata from online courses helped them do it.
The NCAA imposed one of the strictest penalties in its history on Donnie Tyndall, head coach of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) men's basketball team. He now has a 10-year show-cause order for helping prospective players cheat, which also prevents him from working in the NCAA for the next decade.
Tyndall unfairly helped student athletes meet their institution's academic standards by employing graduate student assistants to do their online coursework for them. It's speculated that the unheard-of length of his sentence is due to continuing to lie about the "cheating ring" until confronted with the metadata, reports Megan Guess of Ars Technica.
Tyndall's goal was to help prospective players achieve the credits necessary to play for USM's team as soon as they transferred to the school, and he employed the help of two assistant coaches and two graduate student assistant managers who kept him updated on their progress in secret meetings. Sometimes, even family and friends of the graduate students were involved in completing assignments. Together, they did coursework for a total of seven students.
The graduate students and assistant coaches would be flown out to the student's location to do their coursework for them so that the course's metadata would reflect a plausible location for the students' activity. However, this was not done consistently, and sometimes the coursework was completed from a location that clashed with the actual location of the students, which eventually provided proof of the cheating. The athlete's coursework would often be submitted from IP addresses in the graduate students' hometowns that were nowhere near the players' schools.
The participants became less and less careful as the cheating went on. One student had a GPA of 2.2 for his on-campus courses, yet scored a 3.75 in his online classes. His coach was surprised that he graduated at all. Another student took fourteen courses — not 14 credits, but courses — in a single semester.
Tyndall also gave cash and prepaid credit cards to two prospects via their former coaches and then had another staff member fabricate documents justifying the payments.
According to the Public Infractions Decision released by the NCAA, Tyndall has been involved in this type of academic cheating since six weeks after he was hired as head coach. He joined USM from Morehead State in 2012.
The NCAA first received a tip on this activity in 2014, and when Tyndall realized this, he did his best to hamper investigators. He used his mother's cell phone to speak with those involved in the scheme, but did not admit its existence to investigators until their third interview with him. He also deleted a number of emails relevant to the investigation.
Three former USM students who helped Tyndall received show-cause orders ranging from six to eight years, and a prep-school coach involved in the cash exchanges received a two-year show-cause order, reports Ryan Phillips of The Big Lead.
Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post reports that the entire USM program was also punished. They imposed a two-year post-season ban on themselves, and the NCAA also set down three years of probation beginning January of 2017.