Published December 19, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. – Twitter messages sent to high school players in February violated NCAA rules and nearly resulted in a one-game suspension for Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Among the documents released to the AP this week under Oklahoma's Open Records Act were letters between university compliance staff and members of the NCAA's rules enforcement staff concerning the fallout from Norvell's use of Twitter.
The NCAA initially wanted to suspend Norvell for one game but the university successfully appealed. Oklahoma learned of the NCAA's decision not to suspend Norvell on Dec. 4, about a month before the Cotton Bowl game between the 12th-ranked Sooners and No. 10 Texas A&M.
Oklahoma has had a series of major NCAA violations in recent years and is still on probation for the latest case involving ex-men's basketball assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro. Previous cases involved the football team and ex-basketball coach Kelvin Sampson.
In this case, Norvell sent nine Twitter messages on Feb. 21 to six prospects who were high school juniors, according to a university letter sent May 14 to Chris Strobel, the NCAA's director of secondary enforcement.
"Norvell had intended the tweets to be direct messages; however, upon sending the messages, he instantly realized he had selected the incorrect messaging option and inadvertently posted the messages as public tweets," according to the letter from Jason Leonard, Oklahoma's executive director for athletics compliance, and Connie Dillon, the university's faculty athletics representative.
Six of the tweets contained what OU deemed to be "written offers of financial aid to juniors, which was prior to the permissible date in which an institution can provide written offers of aid to prospects."
Norvell immediately reported the violation and "further indicated that he understood 'written offer' to be offers made through traditional general correspondence" pursuant to NCAA rules, the OU letter said. "Norvell did not realize that something as impersonal as a direct message could or would be considered a written offer of financial aid pursuant to NCAA rule."
OU also said Norvell sent a letter to the six prospects, telling them he had violated an NCAA rule and rescinding the offer, although he said in those letters that Oklahoma still would recruit them. The university required Norvell to attend a 2012 NCAA rules seminar and banned the football staff from sending general correspondence and electronic correspondence for two weeks to the six prospects.
The university said it also provided specific rules education to its entire football staff pertaining to written offers of financial aid, electronic correspondence and the use of social media during the recruiting process.
In a Sept. 25 letter, Renee Gomila, the NCAA's associate director of enforcement for secondary infractions, said while the NCAA agreed with the university that Norvell's violation should be classified as secondary — as opposed to major — Norvell should be suspended for one game and the university should reduce the remaining number of in-person, off-campus recruiting contacts with the prospects by two.
Gomila said that similar future violations "may result in the head coach being suspended from all coaching-related activities" for at least one game.
The university filed its appeal of Norvell's suspension on Oct. 23, citing similar cases at Iowa, Clemson, Mississippi, Memphis and Tennessee. The university called the suspension "inappropriate, excessive and not supported by case precedent (institutions with like penalties)."
In a Dec. 5 response, Strobel said the NCAA enforcement staff had "reevaluated" the case and set aside Gomila's recommendation. The letter did not give a reason for the NCAA's change of heart.