LAFAYETTE—Following an academic fraud investigation into David Saunders, former Ragin' Cajuns assistant football coach for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL), the school has filed a lawsuit against ACT Inc.
Over the course of the last year, assertions were made against Saunders that he had arranged for an environment under which prospective student athletes could be guaranteed a passing grade on the ACT. These assertions followed "unusual increases in the exam scores and substantial erasure patterns evincing numerous changes to the prospects' answer sheets that resulted in numerous correct answers added to the prospects' exams," according to a NCAA's report.
The NCAA launched an investigation based on those claims.
"We know that he told recruits to travel a great distance away to go take an ACT at a certain site," Scott Farmer, athletic director for ULL, said last week after the NCAA report was released. "And after taking the ACT at a certain site, their test scores significantly increased."
Saunders sent them to the Wayne County High School testing center, where exam administrator Ginny Crager allegedly would alter exam sheets as necessary.
ACT, which handles the national college readiness exams of the same name, is accused of not doing enough to prevent the incidents on campus. The university alleges that ACT either knew or should have known that exam sheets were altered in its testing environments. As they are contracted to ensure valid testing conditions and scores, the school seeks to hold them responsible.
After the school announced its lawsuit, Farmer was quick to address the matter in a press conference on Jan. 12.
"Well obviously we think there is another entity that could have stopped some of this from taking place on our campus," Farmer said. "An entity that presidents around the country rely on to validate scores that are used for entrance into universities and for scholarships and so on and so forth. We feel that they somewhat slipped up on that responsibility."
During the investigation, the university underwent self-imposed sanctions as well, willingly vacating its 2011 season due to the presence of players in those games rendered ineligible by the NCAA's findings. Saunders noted the NCAA accepted those sanctions, but are also requiring ULL to vacate any winning games from the Cajuns' 2012-2014 games in which ineligible athletes played, pay a $5,000 fine, as well as face a year of recruiting restrictions.
In accordance with Family Educational and Privacy Act rules, Farmer would not identify student athletes referenced in the NCAA's report.
At the same time, the committee investigating the matter "determined that coach Hudspeth, his staff and his student athletes are not culpable for the NCAA infractions," Farmer said. The blame was put squarely on Saunders.
"They (the NCAA) do believe, and they stated in the report, that he acted on his own," Farmer said. "That it wasn’t orchestrated by the head coach or the recruiting coordinator. There was nothing the compliance office could've done to really find this out. But he's still an employee of ours and we're responsible for that."
In a statement following Farmer's press conference, Joseph Savoie, the university's president, echoed some of Farmer's statements, noting the school's cooperation and determination in the pursuit of truth.
"We are pleased that the (NCAA) Committee on Infractions recognized that the university did not have involvement in or knowledge of Level 1 violations and imposed on us the lowest level of penalties," Savoie said.
Saunders was terminated when his role in the matter became clear. The university does not, at this time, believe he had monetary involvement therein, according to Farmer. ACT, however, remains firmly in the university's legal crosshair.
That said, Farmer noted a range of emotions with the case, most important among them being relief to see one side of the matter closed even as another begins.
"You still have a lot of anger that one employee had us go through all this," Farmer said. "One employee tarnished this great institution, this great department. There's a variety of emotions, but bottom line is that we now can close the book on it, move forward and keep building the program."