Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The details of the recent dismissals of two Georgia State men's tennis coaches for what the school calls minor violations of NCAA rules reads like a soap opera that left the athletics department trying to define the line between one coach's personal life and how he fulfilled his job responsibilities.
Georgia State fired coach Joerg Barthel on March 21 and assistant coach Cesar Vargas on March 27. The notification letters sent to the coaches accused them of "violating NCAA rules and university policies and exercising a pattern of poor judgment in your interactions with students."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, through an open-records request, obtained hundreds of pages of documents that include interview notes, copies of Facebook messages and receipts. Those documents detail incidents of drinking and gambling by Barthel, including an allegation that he borrowed $1,500 from a player or players for the purpose of gambling.
GSU's investigation concluded that Barthel violated three NCAA rules: gambling, not providing an NCAA-mandated day off during the week and providing impermissible housing for athletes between semesters. The school said Barthel also violated a university policy prohibiting drinking alcohol while conducting business when he did so during a team dinner.
Included among the investigative documents are notes from other current and former GSU coaches who noted Barthel's alleged gambling and drinking. In one note, women's tennis coach Robin Stephenson wrote that she had "heard of an incident in which Barthel was drinking heavily before a match last season, and have heard many incidents in which he was drinking while on the road and on team road trips."
In an interview with the AJC, Barthel denied the allegations of drinking and gambling and declined to comment about the charges of providing impermissible housing. Barthel said he signed and turned in a falsified practice record but didn't do so on purpose.
The documents indicated that Barthel accused Vargas of making false allegations against him in an effort to get him fired so Vargas could become head coach.
"Where is (proof) to this allegation? Where did I gamble?" Barthel wrote in an email to the AJC. "When did I gamble? Where are the receipts or money exchanges? Pictures?, or whatever there might be. People that were close to me saying I gambled on the (Atlanta) Falcons is enough evidence?"
GSU concluded that Vargas violated NCAA rules by providing impermissible housing for athletes. Vargas told the AJC he didn't want to discuss his termination, but the school's investigative records show that he admitted to the housing violation.
According to the school, Vargas admitted to letting five unidentified athletes sleep at his apartment, Barthel's residence or the residence of a former player in 15 separate incidents between semesters when school dorms were closed. Vargas told investigators he did so at Barthel's direction.
The athletes initially lost their NCAA eligibility but were reinstated after paying the equivalent value of the housing to a charity. None of the totals surpassed $158.41.
Both coaches were hired in 2012. Athletic Director Cheryl Levick said that until Vargas came forward with an allegation of falsified documents against Barthel on March 10, no issues had been raised during bi-weekly meetings between Barthel and his supervisor, associate athletic director Jamie Boggs, or during his annual evaluation.
"We researched, reviewed and handled the situation," Levick said. "But it's still a sad day. It's not what we want to have happen. At the same time, I know we need to get this wrapped up and move on. It's an isolated and unfortunate incident that we hope never happens again."
The issues first came to light March 10, when Vargas expressed his concern to Boggs about the team not getting a day off during one week in February. Coaches are required to fill out and sign activity records that detail time spent on sports and at least one was filled out in February to reflect a day off for the team when Vargas said none was given.
That interview eventually led to a series of allegations and counter-allegations between Barthel and Vargas. After GSU's internal review, the coaches were cleared of all allegations other than those that led to their firings.
In a document dated March 13, Barthel denied or tried to explain most of the allegations and accused Vargas of making most of them. Barthel said he was considering firing Vargas before the school opened the investigation.
Barthel wrote that he believes Vargas was "unhappy in his current job and position" and that he "is not trustworthy toward the program and any accusations made towards me or Georgia State University Athletics. I believe that it is his intention to become head coach for the men's tennis team and he would do and present whatever he feels will help him achieve his individual goal."
As part of his defense, Barthel also made allegations against Vargas. GSU subsequently sent Vargas a letter March 24 alleging several violations of university policy as well as three potential NCAA violations related to students staying at his residence.
In a document dated March 26 after Barthel was fired, Vargas admitting letting students sleep at his residence between semesters. During the review, he also provided Boggs with dozens of pages of documents, including copies of Facebook messages that noted Barthel's alleged behavior during the 2013 year.
"Unlike Coach Barthel, I do NOT have a drinking and/or gambling addiction/problem, and I am most certainly capable of distinguishing between right and wrong," Vargas wrote. "I wish the administration would not stipulate arguments from someone who not only has proven time and again to be dishonest, but most importantly, someone who is no longer employed by Georgia State for his lack of integrity, values and/or morals."
Levick said she let both coaches go because of the NCAA violations.
In an email to the AJC, Barthel admitted to making mistakes but said he's hurt by the fallout from the investigation.
"When I see the level of multiple false allegations against me and private situations that are being discussed by people that were very, very close to me, I am still unable to find words," Barthel wrote in the email.
He added: "I thank Georgia State athletics for their trust in me and wish the university, athletic department, and especially the Panther student-athletes best of luck for the future."
Georgia State reported its findings to the NCAA on April 11 and has yet to receive a response. Levick characterized the violations as secondary, which likely won't result in serious punishment, if any.
Levick said as soon as Vargas reported the first alleged violation, her department quickly moved to investigate and followed the required processes and protocols. The dates on the documents appear to support her.
Levick said she doesn't believe the alleged actions reflect poorly on the athletic department and she believes procedures are in place to ensure that rules are being followed and the proper hires are being made.
"We will continue to be transparent," she said. "People know that we handle NCAA violations seriously. We have great coaches and great student-athletes. It's an isolated, unfortunate incident."