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Post Bauerle, men’s swimming under NCAA investigation

Wednesday April 9, 2014

Nearly three months of curious silence came to an end Friday when Georgia announced an NCAA investigation into the men’s swimming and diving program and the immediate suspension from “all job-related responsibilities” of coach Jack Bauerle. The investigation alleges violations of NCAA bylaws and UGA policy by Bauerle concerning the fall semester course schedule of swimmer Chase Kalisz.

Bauerle had been under a soft suspension since early January when both he and Kalisz were disciplined. Kalisz was reinstated for competition, but Bauerle’s suspension remained through the end of the season. Bauerle was not allowed to coach the team during meets and did not travel to the NCAA championships, but he was still allowed to conduct practice, perform all other duties of the job, and even pass messages to the team during competition. It was this odd state of limbo that lasted for months that led us to wonder what was going on.

These facts don’t seem to be in dispute: Kalisz was allegedly added to a fall semester course between the end of classes and the start of final exams. Though Kalisz completed no course work, he received a passing grade for the course.

According to the allegations, Georgia claims that the passing grade was a “clerical error” and that an incomplete grade should have been given while the coursework was completed over the next several weeks.

I’m trying to wrap my head around how a student gets added to a course at the point in the semester between the end of classes and the start of exams. Even if that were possible and permissible according to University policy (how could it be?), Bauerle going directly through the professor is a no-no at Georgia. I still don’t see how it gets done without assistance from the academic side – surely professors aren’t able to bypass the Office of the Registrar and adjust their course rolls as they please.

Another odd fact is that Bauerle attempted to go through proper channels first. “Athletic department personnel gave ‘repeated instructions’ to Bauerle not to have a course added to Kalisz’s schedule,” reports Marc Weiszer. I know that athletics sometimes goes to lengths we’d rather not discuss in order to preserve eligibility, but what made this seem like an idea that had a prayer of getting the stamp of approval? Had someone used this technique before? Though athletics administrators gave “repeated instructions” not to follow through on the plan, it still happened – no one on either the athletic or academic side stopped it.

We’ve only read the allegations, and Georgia has up to 90 days to respond. The response will come with the aid of a firm familiar with NCAA minutiae, but we can’t imagine how the substantial facts would be disputed. The nature of the response will be interesting since Bauerle seems to have gone around the administration that will be representing him.

While we wait for that response and the subsequent investigation and finding, Bauerle will be suspended. In a contrite statement following the announcement of the allegations, Bauerle acknowledges a “mistake” and takes full responsibility for the incident. Bauerle “do(es) not agree with the charges in the way the NCAA has framed them,” and I suppose that distinction will be the substance of Georgia’s response.

At one pole of interpretation, we have a coach who went around his administration to work with a complicit professor in order to maintain the eligibility of a star team member. Kalisz went on to win an individual national title, set an American record, and contributed to the program’s second-best showing at the NCAA Championships. Looking through a more charitable lens, the coach pushed the boundaries of a questionable but legitimate method to get some additional credit hours for the student-athlete, and the professor added to the mistake by recording a passing grade rather than an incomplete.

Some have suggested the role of an overzealous compliance department in this story. Georgia’s institutional approach might look like another case of being too quick to fall on its own sword, but schools are also now operating under a new enforcement paradigm. If the allegations are correct, I can’t fault the compliance department for raising the red flag.

Bauerle regrets “that I have placed the University of Georgia, an institution I dearly love and have given my heart and soul to for 44 years, in this situation.” Bauerle has proven that he’s no renegade when it comes to academics; his men and women have been some of the most decorated student-athletes produced by the university. It’s an unfortunate consequence that such an accomplished career and reputation could be tarnished by these allegations, and one of Georgia’s legends will spend the next several months fighting for his position and legacy.

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