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Texas: No evidence of academic misconduct in hoops program

SAN ANTONIO -- An investigation into allegations of academic misconduct in the University of Texas men's basketball program found no violations, though a broader probe of support services questioned whether the school focuses too much on boosting team grade-point averages than an athlete's overall education, the school announced Wednesday.

Texas President Greg Fenves ordered the investigations last year after the Chronicle of Higher Education alleged three incidents of cheating, improper assistance and school policy violations over several years. Texas hired Gene Marsh, a former chairman of the NCAA infractions committee, to conduct what it called an "independent" review of the allegations.

Marsh's investigation focused on five unidentified former Texas players and included interviews with athletes, faculty and staff and a review of academic records, according to a letter of findings Marsh sent to the school Tuesday. Although Marsh noted that one former player refused to cooperate, "we find no support for the allegations of academic misconduct or violations of the institution's procedures."

Texas also released a September 2015 "case closing letter" from the NCAA that noted its investigation and said "it does not appear there is need for further inquiry into this matter at this time."

The investigation covered years under coach Rick Barnes, who was fired in March 2015 after 17 seasons. Barnes is now at Tennessee, where a spokesman said Barnes would not comment on the report. Barnes has previously said he was unconcerned by the investigation.

Marsh's broader review of academic support services gave Texas high marks overall, but suggested athletes may be enrolling in less-demanding majors than their first choice.

The report found that a large majority of Texas football, baseball, and men's and women's basketball players, and more than 70 percent of black athletes are pursuing education degrees.

"UT's College of Education is an outstanding school that is consistently ranked among the top public programs in the nation," Fenves wrote in an email to the university in response to the report. "But we must better understand why student-athletes enroll in it as frequently as they do and whether they are exploring the opportunities in the wide range of degree programs on campus."

The report said some coaches and faculty were concerned about an emphasis on publicizing a high team GPA over academic progress toward a degree. And they worried that the athletic department's academic advisers exert too much control over selection of majors.

"One coach said he would happily trade a lower team GPA for the operating principle that student-athletes should be in a full course load, staying on track to graduate on time and in a major that the coach has discussed with the student-athlete as being the student-athlete's first choice," the report said.

Marsh's review interviewed more than 80 athletes, administrators, academic advisers, faculty and staff. It made several recommendations, including:

- Examine the overrepresentation of athletes enrolled in the College of Education.

- Have "meaningful discussions" with incoming freshman about their academic and future plans as soon as they arrive to make sure they enroll in the right classes from the start to advance toward those degrees.

- Ensure that academic advising be conducted by both athletics counselors and college advisers.

"The report gives me an even fuller understanding of how we, as a university, serve our student-athletes, what we are doing well -- and what we can do better," Fenves said. "Most of the findings are positive, but there are opportunities to improve the programs and experiences for student-athletes."