Idaho Vandals

Documents: University of Idaho basketball coach committed NCAA violations before leave

The men’s basketball coaching staff at the University of Idaho was warned of potential NCAA bylaw violations by the university’s director of compliance but continued to commit similar violations in later months, according to emails and documents obtained by the Idaho Statesman.

The university self-reported three potential NCAA violations on May 23, the same day that longtime men’s basketball coach Don Verlin was placed on paid administrative leave. The Statesman obtained a copy of the submitted report, though it was heavily redacted. The review was conducted by law firm Ice Miller LLP.

As of Friday, Verlin remains on paid administrative leave, and the team’s assistants are running the team, Idaho spokesman Michael Walsh told the Statesman in an email.

Then-Director of Compliance Jordan Hall wrote emails that detailed two instances in which he learned of potential NCAA violations by the men’s basketball program and informed Verlin. Hall spotted one of the violations while peering through the window of a locked gym. When he tried to observe practice two days later, the windows were covered and the doors remained locked, he wrote.

“This seemed very intentional and passive aggressive,” Hall wrote in an email to the university’s deputy general counsel.

In the emails, Hall recounted a conversation with Verlin. Verlin, Hall wrote, said that former Athletic Director Rob Spear informed him he could be “lenient” with one of the potential violations, which involved illegal participation of a non-coaching staff member in practices and games.

Staff was made aware of the potential violation and subsequent rules in September 2018, Hall wrote, and the basketball program was found to have potentially committed more violations of the same kind in October and December.

Every member of the athletic department was sent rules on what non-coaching staff members could and couldn’t do as early as February 2016 and as recently as spring of 2018, according to the emails and report. Despite that, Verlin told Ice Miller he “did not recall specific compliance education” on that topic.

Spear was fired by the State Board of Education in August following an independent investigative report that detailed mistakes his department made in handling a sexual assault allegation made by a female student-athlete.

Verlin has been the Vandals’ men’s basketball coach since March 2008. He led the Vandals to a 5-27 record in 2018-19 and has an overall record of 177-176 with Idaho.

The NCAA violation detailed in Hall’s emails involves then-Director of Player Development Brooks Malm. According to the report, Malm, a former manager for the men’s basketball team as an undergraduate student, was found to have participated in on-court activities with the team during the 2017-18 season, the following offseason and the 2018-19 season.

Malm’s participation was a violation of NCAA bylaw 11.7.3, which forbids noncoaching staff members from participating in practice. Malm told Ice Miller he was unaware that his conduct was not permitted until the fall of 2018, and he was found to have stopped for the most part after the early portion of the 2018-19 season.

According to the report, Malm served as a rebounder and passer during practice and also held up play cards during games. He also occasionally played on the scout team.

Prior to his decreased role later in the season, Malm had scrimmaged with the team five to seven times over the last few years and “performed other coaching duties at practice” nearly every day, per a January 2019 email from Hall.

In an earlier email, Hall detailed a September 2018 photo in which Malm was wearing a whistle around his neck, standing on the court. Hall said he told the men’s basketball staff that Malm’s actions were violations. On Oct. 3, 2018, Hall said he saw Malm participating in a drill with players through a window in the gym, though the doors were locked. Hall said he informed Verlin the next day that he would submit an NCAA violation. The day after that, Hall’s attempt to observe practice was thwarted by coverings on the windows.

On Oct. 11, Hall said he met with Verlin and Interim Athletic Director Pete Isakson about Malm’s violation. Verlin told him that, “(Former athletic director) Rob Spear said we could be lenient on this rule because we don’t have enough paid managers and we would be down one scholarship student-athlete.”

In December 2018, Hall said he saw Malm holding play cards during a game, and again informed Verlin the Vandals were violating NCAA rules. Hall said he spoke with Verlin and mentioned a 2016 email that was sent to everyone in the athletic department regarding what “noncoaching staff member(s)“ were allowed to do. Verlin told Hall he “doesn’t read his emails,” Hall wrote.

Malm was briefly suspended from attending practice after the violations in fall 2018 were reported.

In February 2019, while on a road trip at Montana and Montana State, Malm participated in scout team walk-throughs, according to people interviewed by Ice Miller. Malm also admitted to participating.

The second violation outlined in the report is almost entirely redacted, including which NCAA bylaw was violated. The third involves members of the coaching staff evaluating prospective players during pickup games with current players on campus, which is a violation of NCAA bylaw 13.11.2.1. One of the prospects wasn’t eligible for such an evaluation because of medical paperwork that hadn’t been completed; another was a local high school player who occasionally played pick-up games with the Vandals and was seen in action by coaches.

Despite the reported violations, the report found that Idaho had an “institutional commitment to NCAA rules and a functioning athletics compliance program that educates coaches, athletics staff members and student-athletes.”

Ice Miller labeled the violation related to Malm as a Level II infraction, defined by the NCAA as a “signficant breach of conduct.” The other two were labeled Level III, a “breach of conduct.” Level I is the most egregious category, for a “severe breach of conduct.”

The report details a series of self-imposed sanctions, including a one-game suspension for the team’s head coach, a $5,000 fine, reduced access for Malm, mandatory rules seminars and recruiting and practice limitations through the 2019-20 season. Walsh told the Statesman that all sanctions will be put into effect and that the NCAA could add more.

Walsh also said that if a new head coach were to take over the program, the one-game suspension could be lifted.

Verlin has two years remaining on his contract, with a salary of $260,563 for 2019-20, but he can be fired for cause according to his contract for NCAA violations committed by employees “for whom coach is administratively responsible ... if coach knew or should have known of the violation and could have prevented it by ordinary supervision.”

Malm has accepted a job out of state, Walsh said. Hall left for a job at another NCAA school in January, according to Ice Miller’s report.

The basketball program has no comment on the Ice Miller report, Walsh said.

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