School won't comment until inquiry complete
By Jodie Valade / The Dallas Morning News
Mr. Donaldson said that Mr. Malin suggested the idea and encouraged him to have someone else take the American College Testing exam for him in 1998 to gain admission to Southern Methodist University. Mr. Donaldson said that under Mr. Malin's direction, he arranged the details, and Mr. Malin agreed to pay a friend of Mr. Donaldson's $100 for receiving a qualifying score.
But what complicates the investigation is that after Mr. Donaldson, 20, told SMU administrators last spring what had happened, he later recanted his story.
Mr. Donaldson says that Mr. Malin persuaded him to change his story to save Mr. Malin's job. In addition, Mr. Donaldson said that the coach also promised to get Mr. Donaldson into Texas A&M University-Commerce, Mr. Malin's alma mater, to play football.
Mr. Malin declined to comment and directed all questions to his lawyer, Kirk Watson of Austin. Mr. Watson did not return repeated phone calls.
"As with any investigation of this type, there is conflicting information. We will not speculate on potential findings of the investigation while it is in progress. The investigation, which is being conducted by the firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King of Kansas City, is moving forward, and we will make an announcement at its conclusion."
NCAA eligibility rules state that any athlete found to have engaged in "fraudulence in connection with entrance or placement exams" is ineligible for intercollegiate competition in all sports. The involvement of a coach could be deemed a major violation by the NCAA, in that it gives a school a competitive advantage. SMU has already been placed on NCAA probation in football or men's basketball seven times since 1958.
SMU announced Aug. 6 that it had notified the NCAA of possible recruiting violations by Mr. Malin, 30, who was suspended with pay, and hired the Kansas City-based law firm to investigate. SMU also said that it was looking into allegations that had arisen during exit interviews with graduating seniors and that the violations appeared "secondary" in nature. Secondary violations are ones that provide a limited recruiting or competitive advantage and are isolated or inadvertent.
However, Mr. Copeland confirmed that SMU's law firm is also investigating allegations that were first brought to his attention last spring - allegations that while isolated, were not necessarily of minor violations.
An SMU official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, also confirmed that the school is specifically investigating allegations of entrance-exam fraud.
Mr. Donaldson said he was interviewed last spring by an investigator hired by SMU. In addition, Mr. Donaldson said he was interviewed Aug. 12 by Rick Evrard of the Kansas City firm, which specializes in NCAA infractions cases. Mr. Donaldson said he told Mr. Evrard that Mr. Malin suggested the plan and then persuaded him to find a friend to take the ACT exam for him when he did not make the score he needed to qualify for SMU on his first attempt.
Mr. Donaldson's mother, Monica Donaldson of Dallas, said that she also talked with Mr. Evrard and that she knew from the start of the plans for her son to cheat on the exam at Mr. Malin's suggestion. When her son changed the story he told SMU about Mr. Malin's influence, Ms. Donaldson said, Mr. Malin called to thank her for her son's saving his job.
Mr. Donaldson is no longer at SMU. He said his athletic scholarship was revoked at the end of the last academic year because of the test fraud. Mr. Copeland confirmed that Mr. Donaldson's scholarship had been revoked but would not comment on specifics.
"SMU, as an institution of higher learning, is bound by provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits us from releasing information identifiable to a specific student," the athletics director said in the statement, referring to a federal law.
Mr. Donaldson said that listening to Mr. Malin has led him to where he is now: out of school and out of football, working at a new job to help support his family.
"He's out of a job, but I'm out of a dream," Mr. Donaldson said. "He took my dream away. I know I had to play a part in it, and I'm man enough to take on the responsibilities. But he played a big part in it. And I can't do anything now but tell the truth."
At Kimball High School, Mr. Donaldson was a top defensive back, a Dallas Morning News state top-100 player recruited by a long list of schools. He was also, according to his high school coach, James Jones, a high-quality youth, one "I'd let date my daughter."
Mr. Donaldson said he made an oral commitment to attend SMU because he wanted to stay close to his mother and sister. Mr. Donaldson said Mr. Malin recruited him from the time he was a junior in 1997.
"From day one, Corlin said, 'I want to go to SMU,' " Mr. Jones said. "I told him that we'd do anything we could to help him get there. Malin didn't have to say anything to convince him. Corlin is a little bit of a mama's boy. He didn't want to leave his mama."
Mr. Donaldson's test scores held him back. Mr. Donaldson said he needed an 18 out of a possible 36 on the ACT exam to qualify for an athletic scholarship at SMU. On Mr. Donaldson's first attempt in late 1997, he said, he scored a 16.
Mr. Donaldson said that Mr. Malin talked with him soon after Mr. Donaldson learned the test results. One day, when the two were walking through the halls at Kimball, he said, Mr. Malin made a suggestion.
"He said, 'Have you ever considered somebody taking it for you?' " Mr. Donaldson said. "I said, 'No, I've got to talk to my mom about it.' He's like, 'Well, you don't have much time, and that's what I think you should do.' "
By that time, just after national recruit-signing day in February 1998, nearly every other school had backed off recruiting Mr. Donaldson. He said he thought about how much he wanted to attend SMU and to prove wrong the people who doubted he could gain academic admission into the school. Mr. Donaldson said the coach made it sound as if getting someone to take the test was his only way to get into SMU.
"Coach Malin is a very persuasive person," Mr. Donaldson said. "Anybody who has come in contact with coach Malin knows that. . . . Everything he says sounds good."
Mr. Malin had a reputation at SMU as one of the football team's top recruiters. He concentrated on recruiting from Dallas, Houston and Galveston, and he was known for his ability to connect with black players.
"He's a young guy, and he related to the kids," Mr. Jones said. "I guess you could say he had the talk and he had the walk. He just had a good relationship whenever he was dealing with any of my kids."
Former and current SMU players have praised Mr. Malin's effusive and approachable personality.
"He was a guy who really connected with the players," former SMU defensive lineman Alex Pahulu said. "You could talk to him really easily. He was someone you could hang out with."
His personality and work ethic also drew attention from fellow coaches.
"He was a hard-working, young guy who seemed very ambitious. He just regularly worked relentlessly," said former SMU head coach Tom Rossley, who originally hired Mr. Malin as a graduate assistant in 1994. "Sometimes a hard-working guy like that, you have to keep an eye on, though."
Mr. Rossley, now a quarterbacks coach with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, said he never encountered problems with Mr. Malin and his recruiting tactics. He insisted that everything that happened when he was head coach from 1991 to 1996 was "by the book."
Mr. Donaldson said that after Mr. Malin suggested that he have someone else take the entrance exam, Mr. Donaldson convinced his mother that it was the right thing to do as well.
"Corlin is young," Ms. Donaldson said. "I'm very disappointed that he would listen to someone else instead of me. But he [Mr. Malin] is a good talker, and it's not right for him to use the talents he has in the wrong way."
Ms. Donaldson said that Mr. Malin never directly told her of the plans to cheat on the ACT exam, though they talked on the phone and he assured her he would "take care of everything." She learned of the test plan from her son.
"She asked me if I trusted his [Malin's] judgment. I said, 'Mom, I really don't have a choice,' " Mr. Donaldson said. "She didn't agree with it, but she wanted the best for me, and she wanted me to be able to go to school. I was just persuading her like he was persuading me."
So, Mr. Donaldson said, he set it up. He and his friend got fake identification, with Mr. Donaldson's information and his friend's picture, from a business that Mr. Malin suggested. They arranged to take the test at Mountain View College, where few people would recognize either of them. All of those steps were suggested by Mr. Malin, Mr. Donaldson said.
Mr. Donaldson's friend took the test in his place. And a few months later, Mr. Donaldson learned the results: His friend did not earn a qualifying score on the ACT exam, either. He had earned a 16 and would not receive the $100 that Mr. Donaldson said Mr. Malin had promised.
After that, Mr. Donaldson said, Mr. Malin backed off on his involvement in the test scheme. Mr. Donaldson said Mr. Malin told him if he wanted to have someone take the test for him again, Mr. Malin would not pay.
By then, it was spring of 1998 and, Mr. Donaldson said, he had just one more chance to take the test while SMU honored its scholarship offer. Mr. Donaldson said that Mr. Malin told him he would save a scholarship at SMU for Mr. Donaldson if he could find a way to pass the test on his last try before the start of school.
"He tried to put it back on me," Mr. Donaldson said. "Like that's the only alternative I had."
Mr. Donaldson said he found another friend and arranged to have him take the test in the same way. This time, his friend scored 21, high enough to qualify. Mr. Donaldson heard the results just a day before the start of football practices in August 1998. He said he paid his friend $100 of his own money and hoped the ordeal was behind him.
For several months, it worked. Mr. Donaldson said he almost couldn't believe it when he made it through his entire freshman season, as he played primarily on special teams, and no one said a word to him about the test. All the while, he said, Mr. Malin treated him a little differently, with a little more respect than other players "because he knew what I knew," Mr. Donaldson said.
But the test scheme unraveled just after the season ended, when he received a letter from ACT officials saying that his test scores had been canceled because of invalid signatures.
ACT's formal review process gives the person whose test is in question three options: to retest, to submit an explanation and documentation to seek a review of the challenge or to agree to cancel the questioned score. ACT keeps its challenge of test scores private, a spokesman from the testing center said, sending letters only to the student.
Mr. Donaldson said he received the letter informing him of the test cancellation during SMU's finals week in December and was unable to contact coaches to ask what he should do. So in an effort to keep his scholarship at SMU, Mr. Donaldson took the test again in December. He earned a 17 - not high enough to validate the score of 21 that was in question and not high enough to retain an athletic scholarship at SMU.
To keep a questioned score, ACT requires that the score earned in retesting is not more than three points lower than what was earned on the questioned test. Mr. Donaldson said he took the test again because he thought he could pass it this time, and he didn't know what else to do.
Meeting with officials
Mr. Donaldson learned the results of that test in March and said SMU administrators were also informed and asked to speak with him. Mr. Donaldson said he then confessed he had cheated on the ACT exam at Mr. Malin's suggestion.
Mr. Donaldson said he talked to SMU's internal lawyer, Leon Bennett; to Mr. Copeland; to Charles Howard, the school's NCAA compliance director; and to an outside investigator that SMU soon hired. He signed a statement saying that Mr. Malin had influenced him to cheat on the ACT exam.
Mr. Donaldson stressed that Mr. Malin was the only assistant football coach who knew of the plans to cheat on the exam and said that head coach Mike Cavan was not involved. Mr. Copeland has also said that SMU's own investigation has found no involvement by any other past or current coaches.
Mr. Donaldson said interviews and details of the investigation dragged on for weeks and consumed his life. His grades dropped. He couldn't sleep. He couldn't concentrate.
When Mr. Malin called to monitor his academic progress that spring, Mr. Donaldson said, he went to talk to the coach because he still considered him a friend.
"I went in to see him, and I was very emotional. I was real upset," Mr. Donaldson said. "I was very vulnerable at that time because I didn't know whether or not I was going to be able to go to school, and I knew I needed to. And I loved SMU, and I wanted to go there so bad to the point that it was really affecting me."
He said a conversation with Mr. Malin about the decline in his academics quickly turned into another effort to influence Mr. Donaldson.
Mr. Donaldson said the coach rattled off a list of reasons why Mr. Donaldson should recant his statement: Mr. Malin needed to support his wife and pay for their house and cars. He wanted to remain in coaching. It would hurt the team if Mr. Donaldson stuck by his original story.
And best of all, Mr. Donaldson said, the coach told him he could help him transfer to another school to play football - Texas A&M.Commerce.
Texas A&M-Commerce assistant coach Rich Lawrence said Mr. Malin called him at the end of the 1998-99 academic year to ask about the possibility of Mr. Donaldson's transferring to A&M-Commerce to play football. Mr. Donaldson met with Mr. Lawrence over the summer but learned that his grades at SMU were not high enough to allow him to transfer. Mr. Lawrence also said that Mr. Malin called once after he had been suspended by SMU to check on Mr. Donaldson's status with A&M-Commerce.
But before that, Mr. Donaldson said, Mr. Malin convinced him that changing his story was the right thing to do. Mr. Donaldson said Mr. Malin stressed that Mr. Donaldson needed to change his story because it was the only way to help himself.
"He said, 'Corlin, all you have to do is help me out and tell them I didn't do it, and I'll get you in another school,' " Mr. Donaldson said. "I knew that whatever happened, I'd probably lose eligibility. So I was like, 'Man, OK. I'll tell them that you didn't do it.' "
Mr. Donaldson went back to SMU administrators and signed another statement saying that Mr. Malin had not influenced him to cheat on the ACT exam.
"I changed my story because I felt he could help me," Mr. Donaldson said. "I realize that he was the reason I got myself into this, but it's my fault, too, letting him."
Ms. Donaldson said that Mr. Malin was so indebted to her son for signing the second statement that Mr. Malin called her.
"I know what he did. . . . After all, he called to talk to me," Ms. Donaldson said. "He called to say he appreciated what Corlin did for him. Corlin went back and lied for him and said that coach Malin didn't tell him to cheat on the test."
Mr. Donaldson said that he now regrets signing the second statement that recanted his original statement to SMU because it hurts his credibility. He said he doesn't want to hurt Mr. Malin, but he doesn't want to accept full blame for the test scheme, either.
"I feel better knowing that I'm telling the truth and this will be exposed because it needs to be," Mr. Donaldson said. "I feel like I wasn't given a fair shake in all of it. I know that I had something to do with it, but persuasion is a lot. When you find a person like coach Malin that can talk to you and persuade you to do something . . . any coach is like that. I felt that was right because I didn't know."
In 1987, SMU became the only Division I-A football program to receive the NCAA's "death penalty." Because of repeated violations, the football program was shut down that season, and SMU voluntarily stopped the program from competing in what would have been a restricted season and away-only schedule in 1988. SMU resumed playing football in 1989 and has had just one winning season (6-5 in 1997) since.