Augusta University men’s basketball coach Dip Metress has been suspended and former assistant coach O’Neal Armstrong fired for helping a student athlete cheat.
The suspension and firing follow an investigation by AU’s Department of Human Resources found the two had violated NCAA policy. The NCAA is also investigating the incident.
Aubrey Hinkson, associate vice president of DCM, provided the following statement from President Keel: “Augusta University is committed to the highest standards of excellence, ethics and integrity. It is Augusta University’s policy not to comment on issues regarding personnel and/or ongoing investigations. Our policies clearly communicate to faculty, staff and students that compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations is expected.”
“That is Keel’s statement and represents him, Coach Bryant and our legal office,” Hinkson said.
Neither Metress nor Armstrong responded to repeated attempts to contact them via email, phone and social media.
The investigation and the results thereof are detailed in the personnel files of Metress and Armstrong, obtained via a Georgia Open Records Act request.
A “Suspension and Final Warning” letter in Metress’ personnel file detail multiple rules the coach and assistant coach violated by helping a student athlete complete classwork.
According to the investigation notes in Metress’ personnel file, the HR investigators substantiated the following findings:
“1. You provided inappropriate academic assistance to a student athlete. Specifically, you shared with the investigators that you spent at least an hour each morning before class and sometimes before and after basketball practices, working with a student athlete on discussion questions related schoolwork.
“2. You obtained access to basketball players’ emails/online learning accounts. Specifically, you shared with the investigators that you had access to your player’s emails/on line learning accounts and saved them as bookmarks on your computer so that you could keep tabs on their class assignments, upcoming exams, papers due, etc.”
The investigation notes detail that, among other violations, Metress “applied tacit coercion” to Armstrong to ensure he did “whatever necessary” to assist the student athlete to complete/pass his academic work.
Investigators found that Metress violated five AU personnel policies:
“Failure to perform duties required by the employee’s job description or assignments directed by management, including the failure to abide by the particular rules of an employee’s place of work. You assumed academic responsibilities that were outside of the scope of their job positions/descriptions. You inappropriately assisted a student athlete with academic work to the point of actually completing the student athlete’s work because student athlete was incapable of completing the work.
“Inappropriate behavior or conduct, including threats, intimidation, coercion, the use of
profanity and other harassing statements, toward patients or other individuals at AU Health or any individuals at Augusta University. You applied tacit coercion to your assistant coach to ensure he did “whatever necessary” to assist the student athlete to complete/pass his academic work.
“Failure to adhere to established Information Technology policies and procedures. You admitted to obtaining access to basketball players’ AU login information, which provided you direct access to their academic student account information and their email accounts.
“Unauthorized access to or disclosure of confidential information, proprietary research,
intellectual property, or employee, student, or patient data/records/photographs, images. You admitted to obtaining access to basketball players AU login information, which provided you direct access to their academic student account information, their email accounts, and their confidential information.
“Dishonesty. You indicated you did not ask your assistant coach to pick up the student athlete and escort him to his test in Christenberry Fieldhouse. However, on March 9, 2021, you indicated you knew your assistant coach was in the room with the student athlete on that Saturday because the student athlete needed to get the test done. Transcript from the Respondus monitor system dated March 8, 2021 for the test taken on Saturday, March 6, 2021 indicates you communicated with the student athlete during the test in reference to you working on a discussion question for the student athlete.”
As a result of these rule violations, Metress was suspended for six weeks without salary. When the investigation concluded on Aug. 27, Metress had served six weeks of suspension, but only five were unpaid. To consitute the sixth week of unpaid leave, he will be suspended during two scrimmage/exhibition games and the first three games of the 2021-2022 regular season.
In addition to the suspension, the men’s basketball program will lose one of its 10 scholarships as of Fall 2022, and it will forfeit nine wins from the 2020-2021 season. Further, the university will not be allowed to have any presidential exemption admissions beginning Fall 2022. Presidential exemption admissions allow the university to admit students who have special talents and the potential to succeed academically but who do not meet other admission requirements.
Also, an official letter of reprimand has been placed in Metress’ file, and he will receive no merit raises should the team be placed on probation by the NCAA.
According to the notes in O’Neal Armstrong’s personnel file, he met with HR Employee Relations investigators on June 17, 2021 to “determine the academic assistance provided to an AU basketball player” and on July 28, 2021, “to determine if [Armstrong] had access to AU basketball players’ user identification and passwords.”
The notes go on to say that “It has been determined by your own admission that you escorted the student athlete to Christenberry Fieldhouse where he took an online test for a Criminal Justice 3229 course. While you deny answering test questions, based on the video and transcript from the test, it’s reasonable to believe that you did indeed assist with answering the test questions.”
According to notes in Armstrong’s personnel file, he was terminated on Aug. 27 for failing to comply with NCAA.
According to the investigation notes, Armstrong met with NCAA investigators on June 17, 2021, “regarding allegations of academic assistance provided to an AU basketball player.” During the meeting, [Armstrong] “chose not to be forthcoming with the NCAA investigators” and when the NCAA offered another opportunity to meet and extended the option of bringing an attorney, Armstrong refused. According to his personnel file, Armstrong’s “failure to cooperate with the governing body of Augusta University Athletic Program was inappropriate and unacceptable as an assistant coach with the university.”
The NCAA has not yet responded to a request for information about its investigation or any additional information it can provide regarding the incident.
Augusta University’s men’s basketball team plays its first game Nov. 12 at Barton College, with the team’s home opener on Nov. 23 against Benedict College.