Report: Former friend of Josh Pastner’s behind NCAA violations

A longtime friend of Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner identified himself in a CBS Sports article Tuesday as the person who provided the gifts to Yellow Jackets players Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie that the school found to be NCAA rules violations.

The man, Ron Bell of Arizona, reportedly flew Okogie and Jackson out to his home in Arizona for a four-night stay in May, and provided CBS Sports writer Gary Parrish with photo evidence of the two Tech players in his swimming pool. Bell also asserted that he spent well in excess of the roughly $1,275 that Tech reported to the NCAA that the two had received in meals, transportation and apparel.

Bell also alleged that Pastner knew about Jackson and Okogie staying with him in Arizona and that Bell arranged the trip essentially at Pastner’s request. Bell said that Pastner, acting out of concern over players transferring from Tech as they had late in his time at Memphis, told him that he needed Bell to make sure that players were happy.

He also said that Pastner sometimes sent him envelopes with $200 or $300, apparently with the understanding that he would distribute it to players.

“So he told me, ‘I need you to make sure my players are happy and that we’re winning games. Whatever it takes,’” Bell was quoted as saying. “And I said, ‘Whatever it takes?’ And he said, ‘Whatever it takes.’”

Bell’s account about when Pastner learned of the trip runs counter to what Tech found in its internal investigation, that Pastner did not know about the benefits accorded Jackson and Okogie until Oct. 2, which is when he reported it.

“While we never want to learn that NCAA rules violations have occurred, I applaud Coach Pastner and our compliance staff for taking immediate action as soon as these violations came to light,” athletic director Todd Stansbury said in a statement that was released last Thursday when Tech announced that Okogie and Jackson would be withheld from competition pending a resolution of the NCAA.

Pastner declined to comment Tuesday because the NCAA has yet to make a determination on the number of games that it will suspend Jackson and Okogie. A decision is expected this week. Pastner did release a statement.

“As I have throughout my career, I remain committed to following NCAA rules,” the statement read. “Any allegations that NCAA rules weren’t followed will be investigated thoroughly by our compliance department while I focus on coaching my team.”

In an interview with Channel 2 Action News that aired Tuesday night, Bell said, “This isn’t about money. This is about the truth, and the truth is Georgia Tech false-reported.”

On Channel 2 Action News: Exclusive interview with Ron Bell

As Tech found that Okogie and Jackson had run afoul of NCAA rules regarding preferential treatment by receiving transportation, apparel and meals, the specifics of Bell’s account of the trip to Arizona likely did not come as a surprise to Tech.

Regarding Tech and Bell’s differences in the estimated values of the benefits received by Jackson and Okogie, one possible explanation lies in the guidelines that the NCAA lays out for accounting the costs of various benefits. In determining the cost of a received good, for example, the NCAA allows schools to find the least expensive price for that item available to the general public. With groceries, schools can calculate the cost with a predetermined per-diem rate.

From a competitive standpoint, Tech would not seem to have had a significant incentive to shortchange the value of the benefits by $100 or $200, particularly Okogie. The NCAA offers guidelines for the length of suspension for athletes who have received impermissible benefits, with the suspensions increasing accordingly with the value of the benefits.

In Okogie’s case, his roughly $750 benefit cleared the highest threshold of $700, which recommends a suspension of 30 percent of the regular season. Had Tech determined that Okogie received $850 or $950 worth of benefits, the recommended suspension would have remained 30 percent. Jackson’s suspension could have increased from 20 percent of the season to 30 percent, six games to three games.

Regarding the other charge of rules violations relating to Pastner – that he gave Bell cash to give to players – Bell could not offer proof of the parcels. Bell said that “Josh isn’t that stupid” to document such an act with a text message.

Pastner does have a record for fastidiousness with NCAA rules compliance. A 2015 profile of Pastner in the Commercial-Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., described him as a “compliance freak” and almost obsessive in regards to following NCAA rules. 

The two became friends when Pastner was a basketball player at Arizona and grew after Pastner joined the Wildcats staff. Bell reportedly credited Pastner with saving his life by encouraging to get help for a prescription drug problem. Bell told the Commercial-Appeal in February 2016 – two months before Pastner left Memphis for Tech – that Pastner saved him again years later by helping motivate him to get treatment for cancer. Bell showed his support for Pastner by traveling to Memphis games to support him. After he was hired at Tech, his staunch support of Pastner continued, sometimes through his Twitter account, @UnsilentJPPfan.

According to the CBS Sports article, Bell said his friendship soured for various reasons. Pastner didn’t compensate him properly for his work on his behalf. He didn’t call him on his birthday. Pastner took the side of the team’s program and operations manager, Ellie Cantkier, in a dispute. Bell also said that, as the FBI investigation spread, Pastner became uncomfortable with the rules violations that Bell alleged.

Bell told CBS Sports, “I told him, ‘I hold your career in my hands. You’re going to show me respect.’”

The article, published Tuesday evening in China, came at the end of a strange day for Tech and Pastner. The day was supposed to be relatively uneventful – a practice in Hangzhou, then a train ride to Shanghai and check-in at a hotel on the Huangpu River. Instead, practice was canceled because police wanted to question three Tech players, who were all later cleared. On the way to the train station, the team bus nearly was in an accident. And then, about the time Pastner led a video-review session, the article was released.

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