Texas investigating after report of players’ academic misconduct

Questions have arisen about academic impropriety at the University of Texas. (USATSI)

A detailed report from the Chronicle of Higher Education lays out the possibility that Texas basketball had multiple players who were helped — perhaps by impermissible means — to keep their grades up during their time at the university.

After the Chronicle’s report was released, Texas sent out a statement on Wednesday.

“Academic integrity is at the core of the University of Texas,” the statement reads. “Our student-athletes’ academic progress rates are among the best in the nation. And we continually seek to foster an ethical culture that reduces the risk of wrongdoing, manages our internal controls, and responds to inappropriate conduct.

“The university takes any suggestion of wrongdoing extremely seriously. We are always looking to identify problems that may exist and ways we can do better. Working with external NCAA bylaw and academic compliance experts Gene Marsh and Geoff Silver, UT is investigating allegations raised by The Chronicle of Higher Education and has contacted the NCAA about them. We determined that the university had no knowledge of two former student-athletes allegedly receiving improper help with high school coursework before they enrolled. We now are reviewing three other cases purported to have occurred over a nine-year period since 2006 to determine if any university or NCAA rules were violated and if any action is needed. The university has no information that suggests … Rick Barnes knew of or was involved in any academic improprieties. President Gregory L. Fenves is actively working with his leadership teams in both Student Affairs and Athletics to pursue the highest levels of integrity for all UT students.”

Brad Wolverton’s story alleges former Texas players, such as Martez Walker, J’Covan Brown and P.J. Tucker, to have been assisted in classes and in writing papers during Rick Barnes’ tenure. In one case, there is an allegation of cheating on an exam through the use of a smartphone.

Tucker left Texas in 2006 and was subsequently drafted. Brown left the program as a junior following the 2011-12 season. Walker, who left Texas after one season in 2013-14, is now enrolled at Oakland University. Barnes is now the coach at Tennessee.

The report opens with an anecdote from Walker’s time at the school. As he was taking a math exam, the professor noticed what appeared to be Walker attempting to cheat on the exam by relaying questions on his phone. The professor reported her concerns to others and asked how “tough” her response should be to the player; along the way, no punishment came upon Walker.

He later made the Big 12’s athletic honor roll.

One excerpt from the report:

The incident is one of several accusations of academic misconduct under Rick Barnes, Texas’ head basketball coach from 1998 until this year. One former academic mentor in the athletic department told The Chronicle that he had helped write papers for J’Covan Brown, a former guard. A tutor for P.J. Tucker, another onetime Longhorns player, said Mr. Tucker had received impermissible academic assistance while he was preparing for the NBA draft.

The school has ongoing internal reviews of many possible past transgressions, though Patricia C. Ohlendorf, who is the vice president for legal affairs at the school, told the Chronicle: “Thus far we are comfortable with how matters were addressed.”

There are also questions about how Tucker submitted a paper at a time when, it was later learned, he was out of the state and training for the NBA Draft. A former tutor of Tucker’s told the Chronicle he believed someone did the former UT player’s work in that instance.

No former Texas players commented to Wolverton about the claims in his report.

The NCAA has not announced any type of investigation into Texas athletics at this point.

As for Barnes’ new landing spot, Tennessee fired former coach Donnie Tyndall this past spring for breach of contract, citing his connection to an NCAA investigation during his time at Southern Miss. Tyndall was coach at the school for less than a year. Barnes, 60, was brought on by Volunteers after he spent 17 years at Texas.

Texas subsequently hired former VCU coach Shaka Smart to replace Barnes.

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