Florida's Mullen, staff penalized for recruiting violations

By Edgar Thompson
Orlando Sentinel/TNS

Florida coach Dan Mullen and his staff violated NCAA recruiting contact rules on two separate occasions, leading to a one-year show-cause penalty for Mullen and a variety of other restrictions for the Gators football program.

Mullen and an unnamed assistant coach engaged in impermissible in-person contact with a high school junior, according to an agreement released by the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions Tuesday. The high school coach joined the prospect and coaches in the room and Mullen later sent the player texts reiterating his interest and telling him about an upcoming visit to the high school.

The NCAA deemed it a Level II violation because off-campus recruiting contacts are not allowed during a football prospect’s junior year of high school.

UF’s coaching staff committed a Level III violation when it had impermissible contact with about 127 prospects when seven non-scholastic football teams visited the campus and toured the football facilities on their way to a tournament in Tampa.

UF and the NCAA negotiated sanctions as a result of rule violations. While some penalties were imposed during 2019 recruiting period, the NCAA notice states if COVID-19 restrictions prevented the Gators from serving penalties, they will be imposed the following year.

The NCAA has banned all on-campus recruiting since March due to the pandemic, so it’s likely some penalties announced Tuesday will be assessed in 2021.

Florida leaders accepted responsibility for the infractions and vowed to comply with all NCAA rules moving forward.

“There is no evidence of systemic compliance issues at Florida,” UF athletics director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “But when isolated circumstances occur they are addressed head on and we accept responsibility for our actions, as evidenced by this instance.

“NCAA rules are in place to create fairness and integrity, and the University of Florida has an established history of adhering to those rules. It is important for our coaches and staff to remain diligent and take responsibility for compliance, and extricate themselves from potential NCAA violations.”

The NCAA announced Mullen was prohibited him from all off-campus recruiting activity during this past fall’s evaluation period and will serve a four-day off campus recruiting ban during the fall 2021 contact period.

“As head football coach of the Florida Gators, promoting an atmosphere of compliance within our program is important to me,” Mullen said in a statement. “Following the rules and being committed to doing things the right way is part of my history as a coach, at all levels, and I regret we didn’t do things the right way in this situation. Even though this is an isolated matter, I’m still disappointed in the violations outlined in the report.

“We’re going to learn from our mistakes and I’m confident this won’t happen again.“

The report contained the full list of penalties as approved by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, including:

- One year of probation.

- A $5,000 fine.

- Reduced fall 2019 evaluations from 42 to 21.

- Reduced football evaluation days by 12 for the 2018-19 academic year.

- Restrictions on all recruiting telephone calls with football prospects from April 15 through May 31, 2019.

- A reduction in the number of football official visits during the 2019-20 academic year by one and in the number of unofficial visits during the 2019-20 academic year by 14.

- A one-year show-cause order for the head football coach. During that period, the head coach is prohibited from all off-campus recruiting activity during the fall 2020 evaluation period and a four-day off-campus recruiting ban during the fall 2021 contact period.

- The university banned the head coach from recruiting for the first 10 days of the January 2020 contact period.

- A 30-day off-campus recruiting ban for the head coach during the fall 2019 evaluation period.

- The university ended the recruitment of the prospect.

- The university will not recruit any prospects from the high school in Seattle from the 2019-20 through 2020-21 academic years.

- A seven-day off-campus recruiting ban for the entire football coaching staff during the spring 2021 off-campus recruiting period.

- A 30-day off-campus recruiting ban for the assistant coach in October 2019 and a three-day off-campus recruiting ban for the January 2020 contact period.

- One-on-one rules education for both the head coach and assistant coach regarding NCAA contact and evaluation rules.

The show-cause penalty is the most severe sanctions the NCAA can level against a college coach.

It states NCAA penalties imposed on a coach for a specified time period and can be transferred to a school that hires the coach while the sanctions are in effect. This is to prevent a coach from escaping punishment by leaving for another job. Any school hiring a coach with a show-cause order also typically must go through additional NCAA oversight scrutiny, proving the new staff will comply with all NCAA rules.

Mullen is in the third year of a six-year contract with annual compensation of $6,070,000.

Head coach Dan Mullen of the Florida Gators walks on the field during pregame warmups prior to facing the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 19, 2020 in Atlanta, Ga.