A former assistant athletic director is suing Grossmont College in El Cajon, Calif., claiming he was let go after reporting rules violations by the school's baseball program.
Thomas Armstrong says that — shortly after arriving at Grossmont as an administrator in August 2016 — he noticed the baseball field was frequently rented out in the months following the state championship. In addition, coaches for the baseball team had rented the field on numerous occasions to summer leagues in which they coached. Anderson says he also discovered that much of the money for those rentals went directly to those coaches and to the baseball program. Lastly, he says he found that more than a dozen players had played together during the summer league.
According to the California Community College Athletic Association, coaches are not allowed to hold any type of practice with more than one returning player. Anderson argues that were it not for the cheating, Grossmont would never have won the 2017 state championship.
Armstrong took his findings directly to the coaches and says at first head coach Randy Abshier admitted to holding illegal practices. “Randy Abshier was honest and upfront with me about running the league,” Armstrong told NBC 7 in San Diego. “That was how he won. That was how he got his players. He later denied that our conversations ever took place and never spoke to me about the league again.”
Armstrong then took his complaint to the Grossmont College's equipment manager, who denied any wrongdoing, and later to the school's vice chancellor of human resources, who gave Armstrong the impression that he was to "let it go."
Armstrong decided to report the violations he found to the CCCAA, which agreed that Grossmont had committed infractions, but the college continued to deny wrongdoing.
Not long after Armstrong notified the state of the alleged infractions, he says he arrived at the college for work and a union representative handed a letter, placing him on administrative leave. His email account was closed and his contract allowed to expire. His only recourse, he says, was to file a lawsuit to clear his name and hope that he is not blacklisted from his profession.
“It is very common to get blackballed in this industry if you whistleblow. I was aware of that at the time and it was absolutely terrifying,” said Anderson, adding that he has no regrets about uncovering the coaches' cheating. "It was wrong and reporting it was the right thing to do."
A statement from the college to NBC 7 denied that Anderson's departure was related to whistleblowing. “Neither Mr. Armstrong nor any employee would be punished for reporting athletics violations," the statement read. "In the spirit of maintaining the college’s compliance with the CCCAA Constitution and bylaws, it is in the interest of the college to hear of any concerns."
A conference rival formally reported the same violations to the CCCAA, which responded by placing the Grossmont's athletic department on probation until November of this year. In addition, the baseball team was placed on probation for two years and “informal” probation for the following three years, and the team is banned from recruiting until this November. Abshier was suspended for the first six games of this past season and his assistant coaches were suspended for three games.
Grossmont's statement rejected Armstrong’s claim that the college refused to report the violations. “Grossmont College places strong emphasis on self-reporting as a means of maintaining, and modeling for students, high ethical standards in its athletics programs,” read the statement. “As a result of a self-initiated investigative process to clarify the conditions under which college facilities were rented by college members, college executive leadership became aware of incorrect practices in relation to the college’s baseball team and those violations were properly reported to the athletic conference by members of the executive leadership team.”
However, a letter obtained by NBC 7 from John Woods, the commissioner of the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference, indicates otherwise. “The Grossmont College staff made a number of decisions inconsistent with [the CCCAA] Constitution and failed to report violations,” the letter read.