The coach who led the Cal Poly men’s tennis team this past season to its highest ranking and only Division I postseason berth has resigned amid an NCAA investigation into rule-breaking and allegations of unethical conduct.
Justin McGrath, who came to the school before the 2007 season, confirmed his resignation Monday but disputed that the NCAA investigation or any of the charges against him contributed to him stepping down.
“I can tell you that that’s garbage, and that’s not the reasons I’m resigning,” said McGrath, who said he turned in his letter of resignation Monday to Cal Poly Athletic Director Don Oberhelman to pursue other coaching opportunities.
McGrath declined to elaborate or to dispute any specific allegations.
Oberhelman acknowledged the NCAA’s investigation into the program but said he was reluctant to comment on specific allegations while it is ongoing.
“The university, the athletic department and coach McGrath are all cooperating with the investigation and want to have it resolved within the coming weeks,” said Oberhelman, who was hired by Cal Poly in March.
The investigation was triggered by both Cal Poly and outside complaints to the NCAA, Oberhelman said.
Five sources within the program told The Tribune that an NCAA enforcement investigator interviewed members of the team via teleconference in June. At the heart of the questioning were allegations that McGrath tampered with official scholarship documents and that the university did not provide athletes a chance to appeal after having their scholarships reduced by the coach.
NCAA rules require scholarship agreements to be signed by July 1 and call for universities to notify athletes of their right to appeal scholarship reductions.
Four players said they periodically signed scholarship agreements in September with McGrath urging them to use false dates that made the documents appear as if they were signed before the deadline. A mixture of four current and former players said they failed to receive appeals notices when their scholarships were cut.
The Tribune is not naming the current players it interviewed. Some sought anonymity because the NCAA investigator asked for details of the interviews to remain private. Before McGrath resigned, other players told The Tribune that they feared retaliation from McGrath should he return to the program.
Besides the allegations regarding scholarships, a former assistant coach and current player allege that their signatures were forged on documents that showed they received per diem expense money.
Former Cal Poly volunteer assistant coach Mike Napoli said there were eight road trips in 2010 where he neither signed nor gave permission for anyone else to sign documents acknowledging receipt of meal money from McGrath. But documents that he gave The Tribune list him as receiving about $500 in total from those eight trips and show that each per diem amount was signed for. Napoli said the signature is not his.
A former player who asked to remain anonymous said a document shows that he received meal money at a match in Sacramento in 2010 — and that it was signed for. But the player said he did not attend that match, nor did he receive the money or sign for it. Score results of the match show that he did not participate. Neither knows what happened to the money.
Five current players told The Tribune that immediately before the NCAA interviews, they met with Oberhelman to say that they did not want McGrath as their coach for the 2011-12 school year.
The Mustangs had winning records in three of the past four seasons, and after finishing 14-7 overall and 4-1 in the Big West Conference in 2011, the program was awarded its first-ever bid to the NCAA Team Championships, where the Mustangs lost 4-0 to Stanford in May.
Despite that record, however, the players interviewed said they won in spite of McGrath — that he lacked strong technical knowledge and experience and that he didn’t help them improve.
Players said their distrust of McGrath was mainly because of the fact that he reduced so many scholarships through the years while he was coach.
While scholarship fluctuations are not uncommon or against the rules, players said the coach lied to them during the recruiting process, promising close to full scholarships for the entirety of their collegiate eligibility in order to woo them away from competing programs.
After they had been on campus for a season, players said, the coach would cut the percentage of their scholarships in order to offer larger ones to new recruits.
NCAA rules allow Division I men’s tennis programs only 4½ scholarships to share among the entire team. The coach determines who gets what percentage, and scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis.
The Tribune last week sought copies of the official scholarship agreements under the state open records law. The university is allowed 10 days to respond under the law.
Players who spoke with The Tribune said they continually worried that more money would be carved out of their scholarships for the next round of recruits. Some said that they complained during the past year to university administrators about the practice. Among them is former player Robert Foy, who graduated in 2010. “The main problem I have with coach McGrath is his character,” Foy said. “He’s unethical. He just wants to make himself look great. We maybe did have the best result that Cal Poly’s ever had, but it comes at a price, and there are other ways to achieve success rather than the way he’s doing it, where it just ruins your experience of college tennis.”
Foy detailed the reduction of his scholarship over the course of his four years and alleged that the university failed to notify him of an appeals process, according to a recent email to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong. Foy said he has not yet heard back from Cal Poly administrators.