JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — East Tennessee State University (ETSU) announced plans to fire Women’s Basketball Head Coach Simon Harris after one season following complaints by two players that he enacted an invalid team rule and then disciplined them without verifying the accusations. Through an investigation, ETSU also found NCAA rules violations that “led to the need for an NCAA investigation.”
A letter dated Monday, Aug. 1 from ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland to Harris calls the coach’s behavior surrounding the players, who eventually were dismissed from the team, “unconscionable” and lists a host of wrongs that an Office of University Compliance investigation found the coach to have committed. Harris is suspended with pay until his termination becomes official on Aug. 15.
Noland’s letter outlines the compliance office’s findings and says the rule in question was “inconsistent with the University’s mission” and violates ETSU’s anti-discrimination policy and “may violate Title IX.” Details surrounding the rule were not released.
The letter also says an investigation by ETSU so far found Harris’s “conduct is likely to lead to an NCAA finding of a Level I and/or Level II violations of one or more Governing Athletic Rules.” Level I violations are “severe breach of conduct,” and Level II are “significant breach of conduct.
According to an article by Barry & Barall, LLC attorneys, both of those levels cover violations related to a team’s behaviors that can give it competitive or recruitment advantages.
Noland’s letter notes that the investigation found Harris “exposed the team to a disreputable individual who may have provided extra benefits to players in violation of NCAA rules.”
The investigation launched following complaints from two former players who alleged Harris punished them for violating the “invalid rule” before verifying the accusations.
“You took disciplinary action against the players based upon the invalid team rule, but you failed to provide even the most basic elements of fairness to the players,” the letter written to Harris reads. “You did not inform the players of the allegations against them. Nor did you allow the players a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations.”
The university’s findings allege that after Harris dismissed the players, he attempted to cancel their scholarships mid-year “without justification for doing so.” This, the university notes, is a possible violation of NCAA rules.
In addition to these allegations, the university wrote in the compliance report that Harris allegedly used one of his players “to seek information about the disciplined players in exchange for assistance with her legal and academic concerns.” Another finding accused him of ordering a family member to gather confessions from the dismissed players.
The Office of University Compliance reported Harris provided investigators with “an altered version of [his] team rules,” which constitutes a violation of the university’s policy as well as “abusive treatment of [his] players.”
“This morning, a final compliance report is being provided to former members of our women’s basketball team in response to a Title IX complaint,” ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland said. “The findings outlined in the report have caused me serious concern, as it paints a picture of unconscionable behavior by Coach Harris that is in direct contradiction to the institution’s mission and values.
“The report details multiple ethical and policy violations and raises questions regarding potential failures to comply with NCAA rules. Subsequently, I have directed Interim Athletic Director, Dr. Richard Sander, to begin an investigation into whether or not NCAA violations have occurred. In the spirit of self-accountability promoted by the NCAA, we will report any potential findings immediately.”
Harris has the right to appeal the findings in the compliance report and to pursue resolution through the university’s employee grievance and complaint procedures outlined in its Policy on Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct.
ETSU officials directed Harris in the Aug. 1 letter not to interact with current or prospective student-athletes or other members of the athletic department. He has been employed at the university since March 19, 2021, and previously worked as an assistant coach at Ohio State, according to Harris’ bio on the ETSU athletic website.
The entire letter can be read below.
Harris coached just one year at ETSU, leading the team to a 6-22 overall record, including a 5-9 mark in the Southern Conference and a first-round exit in the Southern Conference tournament.
A new head coach will be named at a later date.