The dossier of documents sent to the Arizona State compliance department and the NCAA enforcement department on May 31 begins with a blunt message about allegations of NCAA improprieties in the ASU football program.
“I am writing this letter to inform you about recruiting violations that are occurring at Arizona State University in their Football department. My objective is…providing enough information to assure you if Arizona State football is looked into, there will be violations found.”
From there, the letter provides, sometimes in meticulous detail, allegations of a series of potential NCAA violations. It specifically names 10 Arizona State “individual staff members to investigate” and lists 13 “illegal recruiting prospects” who visited campus during the COVID-19 dead period.
Overall, there are more than a dozen allegations in the dossier, which was viewed by Yahoo Sports this week. Some of the allegations are specific and have documented receipts and screenshots of emails the dossier cites as evidence of ASU staffers allegedly arranging trips for prospects to visit campus. Others are more general and do not have direct proof about a recruit visiting campus or a coach entertaining a parent at a restaurant in the dead period. ASU has confirmed the NCAA is investigating the allegations.
The dossier also includes a picture that’s alleged in the documents to be head coach Herm Edwards purportedly leading a top 100 recruit from the Class of 2022 around ASU’s weight room. Yahoo Sports could not independently verify the identity of the photo’s subjects, who have their backs to the camera.
Starting in the spring of 2020 and lasting until June 1, 2021, no school could host recruits on campus because of the NCAA-mandated dead period prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was legal for recruits to visit on their own and walk campus, which ASU assistant coaches claimed to Yahoo Sports some of the recruits did. What irked rivals throughout the Pac-12 and around college football was how brazen Arizona State was in allegedly breaking the rules because of the confluence of the competitive advantage and health risks during the pandemic.
In totality, the breadth of the evidence and potential investigative leads provide significant building blocks for an NCAA case against Edwards and ASU. The volume of recruits named will give the NCAA the ability to offer immunity to the players and their families.
While NCAA investigations are notoriously slow and generally ineffective because of the lack of subpoena power, the enforcement staff will have the powerful tool of being able to leverage the eligibility of players for the truth. Also, multiple former staff members have told Yahoo Sports that they are happy to cooperate with the NCAA, a rarity for an organization that often gets stonewalled by the code of silence many adopt in the sport.
ASU’s time in the crosshairs is unfolding amid a backdrop where one Pac-12 coach (David Shaw) and another league athletic director (Oregon State’s Scott Barnes) have publicly criticized ASU’s reported behavior. ASU’s lack of any announcement of specific personnel decisions tied to the allegations, silence from president Michael Crow and the lack of contrition in public comments by athletic director Ray Anderson — “It can’t be something that bogs us down,” he told azcentral.com — have set a compelling stage.
Crow and ASU declined comment to Yahoo Sports on Wednesday, saying the NCAA has asked them not to speak amid the investigation.
The most detailed part sent to the NCAA is documentation of flights for recruits that were alleged to have been arranged by three ASU assistant coaches: Chris Hawkins, Prentice Gill and Adam Breneman. That includes screenshots of emails that show Regina Jackson, the mother of star quarterback Jayden Daniels, allegedly helping book more than $1,100 in flights for recruits and the adults accompanying them on a recruiting trip from Florida, according to the documents. Daniels himself is not implicated with any wrongdoing in the document and Jackson denied any involvement helping ASU.
Anderson’s public ambivalence toward the allegations amplified the stakes at a university whose nine major NCAA violations in its history are more than any other school in the Power Five.
A picture and a group text chain
On the official Arizona State football calendar for coaches, Feb. 7 is clearly marked: “COACHES OFF.”
Still, the dossier of allegations includes a photo that is said to be of head coach Herm Edwards touring a top 100 recruit around the ASU football weight room. The picture provided to the NCAA and viewed by Yahoo Sports is taken from a distant stairwell. Neither Edwards nor the recruit are directly facing the camera, but the image captures a subject of Edwards’ stature wearing a maroon bucket hat Edwards often wears.
In the backdrop of the picture on an oversized weight room television is a women’s basketball game between Notre Dame and Louisville, which tipped off Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. at the Yum Center in Louisville.
The picture epitomizes the challenge facing Arizona State as it tries to navigate NCAA scrutiny while attempting to push through with its season. The Sun Devils return 20 starters and are trendy picks to win the Pac-12 South.
Nothing highlights the potential NCAA risk of that more than a recruit appearing to meet with Edwards. There is another specific allegation in the dossier of a recruit, who ended up signing with ASU, meeting with Edwards and two other assistant coaches in his “private office.”
The manner in which the picture and dossier emerged should also be of concern to ASU officials. Sources told Yahoo Sports that a group of nearly a dozen staffers communicated regularly on group text about the allegedly illicit activities in the program.
The point of the group text wasn’t to accumulate allegations and pictures with a time stamp. Rather, it was used as a real-time exclamation of the disbelief of what was happening in the program, a source said. That disbelief was accentuated as staffers saw coaches who weren’t participating in the alleged behavior pushed out of their jobs or had responsibilities stripped away as associate head coach Antonio Pierce gained power.
“That group text wasn’t necessarily to bring to the NCAA, but it was a way to say, ‘Look at how blatant they are being about it,’” said a source. “It was a way we scoffed at it, like, ‘Can you believe these guys?’”
As another source told Yahoo Sports: “It didn’t even seem like they wanted to hide it. It was so pervasive.”
Emailed receipts of plane ticket purchases for ASU recruits
There appear to be two layers to the alleged illegal visits that NCAA investigators will likely have to examine.
The first is the actual visits and any potential complicity of Edwards and the coaching staff in encouraging recruits to come to Tempe and escorting them through the facility at a time when that was explicitly barred at every program.
The second is how the players who came on the alleged visits paid for the travel, including plane tickets, meals and the hotels or other places that they stayed.
The documents provided to the NCAA offer a glimpse of some of the ways ASU coaches allegedly helped bring players to campus. The players listed in the documents who are alleged to have taken illicit visits to ASU during the dead period are from New York, Pennsylvania, California, Missouri, Texas, Nevada, Florida, Indiana and Nebraska.
Some are enrolled at ASU. Others committed to other schools or remain uncommitted. Some are committed to ASU in upcoming classes.
The most specificity in the documents comes with a group of three recruits who hail from Florida in the Class of 2022. All are highly regarded with offer sheets from blue-blood programs.
There are documents that show at least five tickets alleged to have been purchased by Regina Jackson, star quarterback Jayden Daniels’ mother, for the recruits and their guardians in March 2021. The tickets are emailed to Jackson directly from two different airlines and the receipts show the same credit card tied to the purchases.
Included in the dossier is an email forwarding a ticket for the guardian of one of the recruits. The email is from Jackson to an email address for Chris Hawkins, the ASU defensive backs coach. Hawkins then forwarded the ticket to the guardian. There are receipts explicitly listing the names of two recruits on their tickets with their flight locator numbers, and both are purchased by the credit card that the documents tie to Jackson.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Hawkins said he did not deny knowing the recruits were going to be in the area. He denied paying for or helping arrange the trip: “I’ve never paid a kid. I’ve never paid for a flight. I’ve never done any of that. I made $100,000 last year. I was the lowest-paid [Power Five] coach in America. I didn’t have the money to be paying players or paying for flights. I live check-to-check. I’m not one of the big guys yet.”
According to the document: “This image shows the credit card of Regina Jackson and the name, ticket number, for [a recruit]. Different ticket number than [another recruit] but same credit card as the other two.”
In multiple phone interviews Wednesday, Jackson denied any part in paying for the recruits to come to campus. She said in March she received notifications that her Google email account — the same one listed in the documents — “was compromised.” Then Jackson said she called her credit card company and canceled the charges after being notified of the flight charges on her card. “It’s unfortunate,” Jackson said. “My credit card company notified me of the charges and they sent me a new card. They charged everything back because they realized it wasn’t me.”
Jackson also said her Google account had no record of sending Hawkins an email and that the two know each other but don’t communicate via email. She added that she didn’t know the recruits or their families. “I did not support or help or do anything like that,” she said in reference to helping ASU recruit.
Jackson's presence could prove a unique test of NCAA rules. While the history of college sports is rich with stories of parents accepting extra benefits, it’s exceedingly rare that the parent of a star player is linked to providing them.
Also included in the documents are email screenshots of Adam Breneman, the tight ends coach who was a graduate assistant at the time, sending a plane ticket from Philadelphia to Phoenix to a recruit on July 24, 2020, for a flight on July 25. The screenshot includes an email to the Google address of the recruit, who enrolled at a school in a different conference.
Included in the documents is a screenshot with a specific credit card number the documents allege is tied to Breneman. Breneman declined to comment to Yahoo Sports.
There’s also a screenshot of an American Airlines itinerary of a flight from St. Louis to Phoenix that’s emailed to the address of wide receivers coach Prentice Gill on Dec. 4, 2020. The email is for a ticket in the name of a recruit from Missouri, who was scheduled to fly to Phoenix later that day with a layover listed in Oklahoma City.
Gill told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday he did not get an email from American Airlines on that day: “I’ve never bought a kid anything. I’ve never given a kid money. I’ve never done any of that. I didn’t purchase his ticket. I didn’t pay for anything. I do know that he came to Arizona. He came and visited, he did. He told me that.”
What will NCAA do with allegations?
The NCAA would appear to have a chance at an effective case against ASU. Attorney Stu Brown, a veteran of NCAA probes who is not affiliated with the ASU investigation, said generally that the NCAA “tends to believe a student athlete or prospective student athlete more easily than they believe coaches, administrators or boosters.”
The 13 players listed in the document are believed to be only a portion of the total number who actually visited ASU, giving the NCAA a wide swath of athletes to interview — and use their eligibility as leverage for the truth.
“I think this would hit all those marks for the enforcement [staff] being the kind and the number of witnesses from which they would like to elicit testimony,” Brown said.
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