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Here’s why Virginia football got hit with NCAA sanctions

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It’s not WHAT happened. It’s WHEN.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Virginia Tech Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

UVa and the NCAA announced that the Hoos will face a relatively minor set of sanctions for recruiting violations that occurred during 2016.

Here’s what happened:

The newly hired football staff wanted to personally verify the height and weight of position-specific prospects before offering scholarships to them. For this reason, the coaches decided to pose for photos standing next to prospects. During the spring 2016 evaluation period, the staff posed for photos with 32 prospects at 23 high schools.

Reaction from fans has been a pretty resounding “Well that’s stupid.”

The only reason this is an issue at all is because of timing. The most important words in the NCAA’s description of the conduct? “During the 2016 evaluation period.”

Here’s how the NCAA defines a recruiting “evaluation period:”

An evaluation period is a period of time when it is permissible for authorized athletics department staff members to be involved in off-campus activities designed to assess the academic qualifications and playing ability of prospective student-athletes. No in-person, off-campus recruiting contacts shall be made with the prospective student-athlete during an evaluation period.

And here’s the full definition of “contact” (from Bylaw 13.02.4):

A contact is any face-to-face encounter between a prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete’s parents, relatives or legal guardians and an institutional staff member or athletics representative during which any dialogue occurs in excess of an exchange of a greeting. Any such face-to-face encounter that is prearranged (e.g., staff member positions himself or herself in a location where contact is possible) or that takes place on the grounds of the prospective student-athlete’s educational institution or at the site of organized competition or practice involving the prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete’s high school, preparatory school, two-year college or all-star team shall be considered a contact, regardless of whether any conversation occurs. However, an institutional staff member or athletics representative who is approached by a prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete’s parents, relatives or legal guardians at any location shall not use a contact, provided the encounter was not prearranged and the staff member or athletics representative does not engage in any dialogue in excess of a greeting and takes appropriate steps to immediately terminate the encounter.

The issue here is much less WHAT the coaches did, as opposed to WHEN they did it. The evaluation period runs mid-April to late May, and the rules are pretty clear about what you are and aren’t allowed to do during that time period.

UVa broke the rules, but self-reported once they realized it. As a result, the sanctions are pretty light.