SEATTLE — It was business as usual for the Washington Huskies football team Thursday, even as the athletic department tended to some unusual business.
By now, the Los Angeles Times story of alleged recruiting violations committed by UW defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi has made headlines across the country. On Thursday, the story was featured on the front page of ESPN.com, as Lupoi used his Twitter account to term the allegations “untrue attacks.”
Not exactly the kind of publicity UW (8-4) wanted as it prepares to face Brigham Young (8-4) in next Friday’s Fight Hunger Bowl before transitioning into the Chris Petersen era.
Whether Lupoi will be a part of the latter is now more uncertain than ever.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Lupoi paid $4,500 to help Andrew Basham, a former
defensive line recruit, pay for tutoring and online classes to boost his grade-point average.
Mike Davis, who coached Basham on the Lynnwood High School track and field team, told the Times that he acted as the middleman between Lupoi and Basham — who did not qualify academically to enroll at UW. Davis provided the Times with a detailed description of how each alleged payment was made.
Davis did not return a phone call from The News Tribune seeking comment.
UW confirmed it is investigating the allegations, though a message left Thursday for an athletic department official who oversees compliance issues was not returned.
The Times reported that Davis is scheduled to meet Friday with representatives from UW and USC, which recently hired former Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian. Lupoi was thought to be headed to USC with Sarkisian, but the Times quoted a source who said Lupoi’s chances of joining Sarkisian’s staff are now “less than zero.”
According to The Seattle Times, Davis also is meeting with the NCAA.
Lupoi, who denied wrongdoing to the L.A. Times, posted a statement on his Twitter account Thursday. It read, in part: “Husky Nation thank you for your amazing support! I love this university and appreciate the great fans. I won’t let these sorts of untrue attacks break my focus! I look forward to an honest & thorough investigation. It hurts to read these sorts of things, despite their suspicious motives, but I have faith in the process.”
UW interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo said Thursday that “as of right now,” he expects Lupoi will coach in next week’s bowl game in San Francisco.
Tuiasosopo said he hasn’t spoken with school officials about the matter.
“Right now, the focus has been getting this team prepared to play,” Tuiasosopo said. “Like I said, I think the appropriate people are handling all the deals that are going to come up with that or whatever.”
The Seattle Times reported in May that Lupoi, 32, was “limited” during the spring recruiting season after committing a secondary violation when he publicized the visit of a recruit by confirming information about him to the student section at a basketball game.
Those kind of minor violations are self-reported by schools with some measure of regularity. But as with most coaching contracts, language in Lupoi’s deal dictates that he can be terminated with cause — meaning without financial consequence to the school — if he is found to have committed “significant or repetitive violations of NCAA rules.”
It’s unclear who might be most affected if UW — or the NCAA — determines that Lupoi committed a violation.
The rule in question, according to John Infante, a former NCAA compliance officer who now authors a blog about such matters, is NCAA Bylaw 13.15.1. It forbids universities from paying “the costs of the prospective student-athlete’s educational or other expenses for any period prior to his or her enrollment.”
The NCAA adopted new bylaws this season that attempt to place more responsibility on head coaches for violations committed by assistants on staff.
According to the new bylaw, a head coach is “presumed to be responsible for the actions of all assistant coaches and administrators who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach.”
The bylaw also states that head coaches are to “promote an atmosphere of compliance.” Because the new bylaw hasn’t yet been applied to an investigation, Infante wrote, it’s difficult to speculate about potential ramifications for UW or Sarkisian, though the former Huskies coach has claimed in interviews that he had no knowledge of Lupoi’s alleged payments.
Sarkisian told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Thursday that “I think this potential allegation could affect not only Tosh’s future at USC, but moving forward anywhere.”
UW has not made Lupoi available for comment.
BOWL TICKET UPDATE
A UW spokesperson said Thursday the school has distributed about 3,750 of its 11,000 allotted tickets for the Fight Hunger Bowl.
uw football Dec. 27: UW vs. BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl, 6:30 p.m., ESPNchristiancaple@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune/uwsports @ChristianCaple