Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Bobby Cox called it “as egregious of a violation of undue influence” as he has seen in his time with the IHSAA. The result: Southport’s boys basketball program is banned from the 2019-20 tournament, the most substantial penalty levied at the school by the IHSAA on Monday.
The violation: an IHSAA investigation last week found coach Eric Brand provided a tuition payment to Perry Township Schools in the amount of $5,548 on behalf of Nickens Paul Lemba, a transfer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Perry Township accepted the payment on behalf of Lemba in order to remain compliant with U.S. immigration law and meet the requirements of an F-1 student visa.
Brand’s payment is a violation of 20-1 of the IHSAA by-law on undue influence, which reads, in part: “The recruitment or attempted recruitment of a prospective student, through the use of undue influence is prohibited. Undue influence is the act of encouraging or inducing a prospective student to attend a school for athletic purposes.”
Cox met with administrators from Southport on Wednesday. The evidence of Brand’s violation was clear, he said.
“You have a high school coach write a check to pay the tuition for a student from out of the country, so he can stay in the country,” Cox said. “It doesn’t get much more obvious than that.”
On Friday, Perry Township assistant superintendent Robert Bohannon, in a letter to the IHSAA, outlined the corrective measures the school planned to take. Respective of the IHSAA by-law violation, the following penalties were assessed:
- The Southport athletic department is placed on probation for 365 days.
- The IHSAA accepts the suspension of Brand for two games, which was recommended by the school. Cox notes this suspension falls “woefully short” of the expectations of IHSAA member schools.
- Southport student Nickens Paul Lemba is declared ineligible for the 2019-20 school year.
- Southport is removed from the 2019-20 boys basketball tournament.
“As I said in my letter, the suspension the school provided for Eric Brand was woefully short and I will stand by that,” Cox said. “They could have taken stronger action and chose not to. That’s their choice. The IHSAA runs the tournament and the schools are able to participate when they are in good standing. This school is not in good standing now.”