Utah athletic director Chris Hill announced on Monday that baseball coach Bill Kinneberg will likely be suspended for an unspecified number of games due to a self-reported NCAA violation that came to the department’s attention after receiving a letter from the parent of a former baseball player.
Hill said the university recommended the suspension, but he would not reveal the length of games because the NCAA has not ruled on the matter. He also did not specify the nature of the violation that was uncovered. Hill said only that the violation was an “isolated incident” that did not relate to academics, funding or recruiting.
“When we send something [to the NCAA] like we do here, we send it with what we feel are the appropriate disciplinary actions,” Hill said. “The NCAA will be in the process of reviewing that, and they’ll take further action or accept what we do. We’re in that process now, so it’s pretty much impossible for me to go much further than that.”
Prior to the investigation — which was conducted by a law firm the school hired — Utah athletic compliance officials interviewed eight current and former players along with a university student-athlete advocate. Those interviews pertained only to the allegations of an NCAA rules violation.
“This is a visible thing, and the new rules are such that the head coach is responsible big time for everything,” said Hill. “So if something goes wrong, the coach needs to make sure they have taken responsibility.”
Hill said he did not consider removing Kinneberg as coach of the baseball program, and he declined to discuss any disciplinary actions he may take.
“Student-athlete safety, development and success, both on and off the field, has and always will be my top priority and the top priority of the program,” Kinneberg said in a statement. “I trust the University and the process as we move forward in addressing the concerns.”
The letter from the unnamed parent made several allegations regarding the welfare of baseball players and conduct of players and coaches while away from campus for games.
Among the allegations were drug use by baseball players, a culture of partying and inappropriate conduct among players during road trips, coaches being drunk on road trips, that a student manager was asked to perform duties outside their scope, including buying beer for Kinneberg, a former member of the coaching staff requesting prescription drugs from baseball players, players being injured due to incorrect use of equipment and not having full-time staff members transport or accompany athletes to receive medical care.
The university on Monday presented a report from the law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC, which conducted an investigation beginning in July 2017 that included 27 interviews with 10 current players, 11 former players as well as coaches.
The firm found no evidence of injuries due to incorrect use of failure of equipment, drug problems involving baseball players, or players engaging in inappropriate behavior during road trips. The report also said insufficient evidence was found to conclude a former member of the coaching staff requested prescription drugs from players.
According to the University, the athletic department randomly drug tests for recreational drugs as well as performance enhancing drugs and masking agents. JAG Exam Services, Inc. serves as the collection agency and Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory tests the samples. Since August 1, 2013, the school reported that 163 samples from baseball players have been tested, with one positive result for marijuana in April 2014.
The report did find that on occasion an injured players had been transported by a student manager to the closest emergency room to receive medical care, and that on three occasions Kinneberg asked a student manager (who was 21) to purchase beer.
According to the report, the student manager confirmed purchasing one or two cans of beer on approximately three occasions. Kinneberg stated during the investigation that he had one beer in the evening with dinner.
During the investigation a member of the baseball staff admitted to being intoxicated “on occasion” in his hotel room during road trips, but the report said there was no evidence that coaches were intoxicated in public or around players or threatened the well-being of players or prevented the coaches from performing their job duties.
“We make sure we take every one of these seriously, every letter,” Hill said. “We’ve learned a lot over the years as to how to do a great job making sure we look into everything, do what’s right and run a quality program.”
The firm included a list of recommendations, which included implementing a system for staff members to enforce team curfew on road trips, having full-time athletics department staff members accompany or be present when an injured player requires emergency medical care, providing “additional education” to coaches regarding department policies related to alcohol use during off-campus contests.
The firm’s findings also recommended a review of the evaluation of the scholarship relinquishment process.
That recommendation comes as a result of an unidentified player telling investigators that he felt pressured to sign a document relinquishing his scholarship in the summer of 2016, despite the Pac-12 Conference mandate effective 2015-16 that all athletes receiving athletics aid should receive four-year financial aid agreements.