Earlier today, Kyle Veazey of the Memphis Commercial Appeal broke the news that following an inquiry from the NCAA, a guidance counselor at the high school of Auburn freshman Jovon Robinson resigned after admitting to doctoring Robinson’s transcripts. While it sounds like the story is mostly over for the guidance counselor, it is just starting for the athlete, who expected to get his college career underway later this month.
Robinson’s eligibility and Auburn’s fate rests on three questions. First, how much help did the falsified transcripts give Robinson? Two, what did Robinson know about the counselor’s actions? And three, how involved was Auburn?
How Much Help Were the Transcripts?
Job one for the NCAA, specifically the NCAA Eligibility Center, is to figure out what Robinson’s real grades were and whether he would still have been a qualifier. The assumption is that if there was a fraudulent transcript, it was because he was going to be a nonqualifier. But it could be that Robinson was going to be close and the new transcript made him appear to be a qualifier by a safer margin. Or it could have been falsified to meet admissions standards at Auburn or another school.
Even if Robinson’s true grades leave him a nonqualifier, how short he is would be critical for his chances at an initial eligibility waiver. And depending on the answer to the next question, he may have quite a bit of mitigation.
What Did the Athlete Know?
It might be hard to stomach another Auburn eligibility issue resting on what an athlete knew, but it applies here. The NCAA could end up in one of three places:
• Evidence that Robinson knew or was active in falsifying his transcripts.
• Evidence that Robinson did not know.
• No evidence or inconclusive evidence either way.
The first makes sense. As for the second, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove you did not know something. But you can show some evidence. For instance, if Robinson asked his counselor what extra work he should do or suspected he was not going to be eligible and wanted to know what he needed to do to fix the situation. Or if the counselor had told Robinson for a long time that he would be fine.
What Did Auburn Know?
What Auburn knew should not have too much impact on Robinson’s eligibility, unless Auburn was how Robinson knew his transcripts were being falsified. Rather, what Auburn knew or did will mostly impact Auburn.
Pressuring a high school guidance counselor would be a serious charge for the university. It would be almost guaranteed to result in individuals being fired and charged with ethical conduct violations, and would likely be a major violation for Auburn as well. Simply knowing it will happen and allowing it would be almost as bad. But those violations take time to process and are secondary to determining Robinson’s eligibility as soon as possible.
So What Should the NCAA Do?
Robinson’s eligibility is a complex question because there are two issues right now: whether he would have been a qualifier and whether he knew about the guidance counselor’s actions. If Robinson had knowledge of or participated in the academic fraud, that would be an ethical conduct violation with a normal penalty of a one-year suspension and losing a season of competition. If Robinson was also going to be a nonqualifier, that would mean he would need to go the junior college route, be starting with three seasons of eligibility, and maybe need to sit out for a year when he returns to Division I.
If the NCAA does not have evidence that Robinson knew what was going on and he was going to be a qualifier anyway, nothing should happen with his eligibility. If there is no clear evidence either way and Robinson was going to be a nonqualifier, he should just be declared a nonqualifier and would have to leave Auburn unless he can get a waiver.
However if Robinson can show clear evidence he did not know what was going on and was going to be a nonqualifier, that would be strong mitigation and he likely deserves a waiver. Even if he would have been very short, he should get a partial waiver to keep his scholarship and continue practicing with the team, just not be cleared to play this year.
Finally, if Auburn was involved and Robinson was not, he should have the opportunity to leave Auburn. He should not be declared ineligible and forced to leave. Rather, he should be permitted to void his National Letter of Intent, transfer without restriction, and be immediately eligible if he decided to leave Auburn.