Santa Monica College Corsair football Coach, Robert Taylor, talks with a player about forgetting equipment at Wednesday's practice at Santa Monica High School's south field. (photo by File Photo)

SMC — After 15 years at the helm, Santa Monica College’s head football Coach Robert Taylor has been dismissed from the program amid allegations of recruiting violations that involved student athletes receiving special financial incentives that were not extended to the rest of the campus population.

Sources said Taylor changed the residency status of out-of-state players on his football team so they would pay the significantly lower in-state tuition. SMC officials confirmed that Taylor was relieved of his duties as head football coach and that he remains on the staff as a full-time physical education professor.

He was hired in 1984 as an assistant football coach and was promoted to head coach in 1994. During that time, he coached several future NFL stars, including Isaac Bruce, Steve Smith and Chad Ochocinco, formerly known as Chad Johnson.

Taylor did not respond to a call seeking comment.

The team has experienced success during his tenure, including in 2003 when the Corsairs won the Western State Conference. The program has however fallen on harder times over the past several years, winning just over a half dozen games since 2006. The team is now in the Western Division of the American Conference.

Now those wins won’t count.

SMC officials have self-imposed sanctions and penalties on the program, vacating all wins back to the 2006 season. It will also be suspended from post-conference play this season and be placed on probation for three years during which time the college will develop and institute a plan that will monitor all areas of the program.

“I, along with our senior administrators, take ownership of the problems identified and intend to continue to show through both our words and actions that Santa Monica College is acting responsibly to address the serious issues that have emerged,” SMC President and Superintendent Chui Tsang said in a statement dated July 29.

Tsang said the program was in violation of the constitution and bylaws of the California Community College Commission on Athletics and the California Community College Athletic Association. He said that an investigation into the program has shown “serious violations of institutional rules relating to changing student residency status.”

Students with a California residency have paid $20 a unit for the past several years, which translates to about $480 tuition for the year. Out-of-state students pay about $216 a unit, or about $5,184 a year. The tuition for in-state students will increase to $26 a unit this fall.

Michael Tuitasi, the vice president of student affairs, could not be reached for comment.

The dismissal of Taylor has not discouraged incoming freshman running back Christian Ross, who said he chose SMC over El Camino College because of the coach, whom he calls a family friend.

Ross said he debated whether to go to another school but is choosing to stay.

“He said they will have a good program this year and I believed in what he said,” Ross, who also played at Santa Monica High School, said. “He’s been there for years and really knows the game.”

The California Community College Athletic Association, which is the governing body for athletics at junior colleges, initially received communication about the possible recruiting violations in June. The organization will not have further involvement on the allegations since SMC has already self-imposed sanctions, Carlyle Carter, the CEO and president, said.

Recruiting violations at community colleges have come up over the five years that Carter has been at the head of the organization, some that involve individuals who believe they are doing favors for students.

“Many students we get are coming from really disadvantaged or desperate situations and some of our coaches do it because they think it is out of trying to benefit the student,” Carter said.

Ventura College was similarly investigated and self-reported violations that information on the applications of out-of-state players in the basketball program from 2000 to 2006 had been fabricated. The Ventura County Star reported earlier this year that a half dozen Western Conference titles were forfeited.

The state’s education code has some of the most restrictive rules when it comes to recruiting, prohibiting coaches from going out of their college district to lure prospective athletes. The California Community College Athletic Association mirrors the state’s regulation but with the exception that coaches are allowed to recruit in districts that are contiguous, Carter said.

Coaches are also prohibited from recruiting out-of-state students unless they receive a waiver.

California is also unique in that it also has more two-year-college football programs than almost any other state in the country, an attractive feature that draws students from out of state.

“Some of them are trying to improve their grades, some of them are trying to improve their skills,” Carter said.

He also pointed to SMC’s history of producing NFL stars, which is also encouraging to players who are trying to further their careers.

Violations such as changing the residency of students actually takes place more than people think, Efrain Martinez, the head coach at Los Angeles Pierce College, said.

“I don’t think they are the only school that does it,” he said. “I’m sure there are others that do and have.

“There might be other programs that do it but since they win consistently, people might look the other way.”

Martinez, who has coached for three years at L.A. Pierce College, which is in the same conference as SMC, said that he feels bad for Taylor, whom he calls a “great guy.”

But the party that will suffer the most are the players, he said.

“Anytime you let somebody go, the allegations have to be serious,” he said. “It’s a surprise regardless, especially this late in the season because what happens is it puts the program in disarray.”

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