'City Paper' investigation: Improper financial aid given to MBA athletes

Monday, January 9, 2012 at 12:01am

In April 2011, Daniel McGugin lost his job as Montgomery Bell Academy’s head football coach when it came to light that he delivered a check for $1,500 to the parents of a player. The payment ran afoul of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association — the governing body for high school sports in the state — and its rules on tuition assistance and recruiting.

TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress praised MBA for “self-reporting” the violation and terminating McGugin. He then declared the investigation over.

It wasn’t finished, however, and the TSSAA continued to investigate and ask questions of MBA staff past and present. What they discovered is unclear, but The City Paper has learned of multiple instances where money was given to the families of student athletes in violation of TSSAA rules, some by MBA trustees.

Publicly the school maintained that the event that led to McGugin’s firing was an aberration. Privately, many close to the school have said this sort of thing has been going on for decades and not just in the football program. Multiple sources told The City Paper of at least nine instances dating back to the 1990s where money was given to the families of student athletes or the school on behalf of student athletes. Not all were necessarily violations of TSSAA rules.

The City Paper has not named the students involved because, in most cases, it’s not apparent that they even knew of the outside assistance. The students in question attended MBA at different times from the mid-1990s up until today.

Of the monies delivered:

• At least three members of the current MBA Board of Trustees have reportedly paid tuition for students who were also athletes.

• One student athlete had a family member who worked for free for an alumnus who in turn paid the tuition.

• The father of one student worked for an organization controlled by a prominent MBA donor. The father worked for the organization during the years his son played at MBA, according to IRS records.

• One individual confirmed to The City Paper that MBA knew he paid the tuition for a student athlete outside of the normal financial aid structure.

• At least one student athlete had his tuition covered outside of normal student assistance channels when his parents were going through a divorce.

Separate sources have confirmed to The City Paper that TSSAA attorney Rick Colbert met with MBA officials in early December. The organization — think of it as Tennessee’s version of the NCAA — sets and determines rules for player eligibility and punishes schools who violate their rules.

When reached for comment, Bob Walker, MBA’s legal counsel said, “MBA has been forthcoming and cooperating with the TSSAA since last fall. We expect the matter to be resolved in the near future.”

The TSSAA declined to comment.

TSSAA rules on financial assistance are clear — if anyone outside of the family pays for a student, that student becomes ineligible to play sports (TSSAA Bylaws, Article 2, Section 16):

“If tuition is charged, it must be paid by parent, bona fide guardian or other family member. If a parent, guardian or other family member secures a loan for payment of tuition, it must remain an obligation of the parents, guardian or other family member to repay the principal and interest in full with no exceptions.”

The rule is aimed specifically at private schools using outside donors to secure athletes. And a school cannot fail to collect a student’s tuition, either. All students with accounts that are 60 days past due are ineligible.

The monies given to families highlight the problems the TSSAA has in enforcing its rules. In 1996, after complaints by public schools about private schools recruiting athletes, the organization split its members into two divisions: Division 1 is composed of public schools and private schools that don’t provide aid. Division 2 is composed of private schools that provide need-based aid along a variety of national and federal guidelines.

Because the TSSAA is not large enough to police financial aid matters and relies mainly on schools to self-report eligibility issues, it would be relatively easy for any private school that awards grants-in-aid to athletes to avoid detection. Multiple individuals, including supporters of MBA and other private schools, have told The City Paper that they believe there are aid issues throughout Division 2 schools.

The TSSAA has leveled penalties for violating financial aid rules only once in the past five years. Grace Christian Academy of Knoxville was issued a three-year probation for using an ineligible player in basketball and football games from 2007-2010. All wins were vacated. The student’s tuition was covered by a church following the death of his parents his freshman year. Because the infraction was not initially reported by the school, the penalties issued by the TSSAA, including heavy fines that were later appealed, were harsher than usual.

Of the eight former MBA athletes that allegedly had some or all of their tuitions paid outside of the proper financial aid channels, a few have gone on to participate in college athletic programs. Some of those students stayed within the region, while others have gone far out of state.

Few people associated with MBA wish to publicly criticize the school. Attempts to get even ancillary figures connected to the situation to speak on the record were met with polite refusals and statements that any public connection to them on this matter could do them irreparable harm.

The institution is extremely prestigious. MBA is the alma mater of former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist and his brother Thomas, founder of HCA. Former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Frank Drowota is a graduate, as is Admiral Joseph W. Prueher, a former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command and ambassador to China. World War II European Commander Lt. Gen. Frank Maxwell Andrews — as in Andrews Air Force Base — was a graduate as well. If the place reminds you of the movie Dead Poets Society it should — its writer, Thomas Schulman, went there too.

It is also the school of athletes like PGA Tour Golfer Brandt Snedeker, former Pro Bowl quarterback and first overall selection in 1952 NFL Draft Bill Wade, former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and former Tennessee Titan Ingle Martin. Current city leaders are entwined with the school as well. Congressman Jim Cooper’s son is a recent graduate, Sheriff Daron Hall’s son is currently enrolled and Mayor Karl Dean’s son is a graduate, as is the mayor’s brother-in-law, Joe Davis.

This is the world that McGugin, an alumnus, was brought up in and took pride in. He was sold on the culture and became a big part of a major source of pride for alumni — football. The school has been state champion 14 times in its history, most recently in 2007 during McGugin’s first year as head coach.

It was during his second year as coach that he gave the family of one of the then-junior varsity players an envelope that had been placed in the coach’s mailbox at school. The envelope contained a check for $1,500, and the students’ parents took the money.

There have been conflicting reports over why the check was given. One person with direct knowledge of the event told The City Paper, “What Daniel did was wrong, but he did it with [headmaster] Brad’s [Gioia] blessing.”

This contradicts claims made by MBA administrators, who told TSSAA investigators that the school knew nothing of the check until it was brought to their attention in early 2011 by the players’ parents. Allegedly, the student wanted to quit the team, having lost his job as a starter. His parents took a copy of the old check with them and went to complain about the football coach. 



Disclosure: Three directors of SouthComm — the parent company of The City Paper — Townes Duncan, DeWitt Thompson V and Mark Oldham, have ties to the school. Duncan and Oldham had family attend MBA, while Thompson is an alumnus, and his father served on the MBA board of trustees.

25 Comments on this post:

By: treehugger7 on 1/9/12 at 7:20

Why is it so hard to play by the rules? There have been issues with this school as long as I have lived here. Just because you're rich doesn't mean you can do anything you want to. Charge these people, especially the school employees. High school sports are not extraciricular activities--they are businesses and should be regulated and prosecuted.

By: Ummm... on 1/9/12 at 8:11

Isn't it funny that the same wealthy folks who rant and rave about government "entitlement" programs are the ones who feel "entitled" to break these rules?

By: Nitzche on 1/9/12 at 8:53

Any word from Ensworth and all those"needy" student athlete's at their institution?

By: BigRedFever on 1/9/12 at 9:34

MBA's Board and headmaster is so arrogant and hypocritical. They never had a problem with the one-time offense by McGugin. Rather, one powerful board member exploited the incident to settle a grudge with McGugin, after his son complained that Daniel was "mean" during his time on the football team. Way to go, you got your way. Our school is now humiliated, we lost our school's best teacher/coach/ambassador, and our football team stinks. At least we exposed the corruption of the adminisitration. Sad days for MBA. Hope for change in leadership soon.

By: tomba1 on 1/9/12 at 9:41

If the City Paper really wanted to perform some "investigative journalism", it could approach this topic with eyes focused on the TSSAA and it's timeless refusal to police its' entire membership and enforce its' own, self-imposed rules. This is a long-standing systemic issue which has been far from secretive for decades. In this case, singling out any individual school regarding this widespread practice is merely sensationalism at its' finest. It seems the paper takes great pride in thinking it's exposing the tip of an iceberg when the entire iceberg has been exposed for years, if not generations.

This reminds me of a slogan I saw on a coffee mug which said, "as you go thru life, brother, no matter what your goal; keep your eye on the donut and not on the hole". Perhaps this paper needs a new mug.

By: tbulgarino on 1/9/12 at 9:49


Ha, "Charge these people". Seriously? You are aware that no crime has been committed...right?

The bottom-line is that a great institution has failed to live-up to its own ideas of honor and honesty. As is often the case, the few have sullied the many. Those that violated the school's trust need to disassociate from MBA for the institution to move forward.

I believe that many of those who opened their wallet did so for a noble purpose. If that is indeed the case then it was their duty to ensure that those receiving aid did not participate in TSSAA sanctioned sports. In the future, commit to follow the nonsensical rules of the TSSAA or resign from the organization and make your own rules ... that is the only honor in this situation.


An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
- Winston Churchill

By: ConsiderTheSource on 1/9/12 at 9:56

Nice hitjob piece on Gioia by the paper owned by one of the McGugin's closest family friends. For anyone that doesn't know, the Thompsons and McGugins are joined at the hip.

While the details of the story are under an NDA (that only Daniel and key MBA personnel are under), that doesn't stop the Thompsons from lashing out.

Man has this gotten ugly. A true application of the "Belle Meade Rule."

There have been conflicting reports over why the check was given. One person with direct knowledge of the event told The City Paper, “What Daniel did was wrong, but he did it with [headmaster] Brad’s [Gioia] blessing.”

I'm sure the person with "direct knowledge" couldn't have been a Thompson who perhaps commissioned this piece. I'm also sure that Mr. Thompson couldn't have had a motive to make such a damning accusation against Mr. Gioia.

Until there are sources that have the stones to make these accusations ON THE RECORD (whatever happened to proper journalism?), consider this story what it is: a commissioned hitjob by members of the McGugin's closest family friends, The Thompsons. Pathetic.

By: localboy on 1/9/12 at 10:44

Interesting article. Thanks, CP.

By: skiddlenugget on 1/9/12 at 11:48

Since I don't have a dog in this fight, I am on neither side. This seems to be a personal issue. But, one of the worst-kept secrets in Nashville is that MBA commits recruiting violations. To say that the administration didn't know ....... well, they are either lying or extremely incompetent. It is the responsibility of the administration to know what goes on under their noses. Yes, MBA graduates a lot of politically powerful men. Perhaps this is where they learn their ethics. I'm just sayin'....

By: Red Rules on 1/9/12 at 12:43

This is an obvious attempt by the former coaches camp to move blame and gain some sort of sympathy. He must want to attempt to get back into coaching and is trying to prove something. This article is blasphemous and inacurate, According to my sources (with direct knowledge of the event) what you have written above is garbage. Half truths with continued attempts to blame everybody else and in no way taking responsibility. Some people just need to grow up at some point.

By: Yenzie on 1/9/12 at 12:43

I can't speak to any of these particular allegations, BUT... for the record, it should be noted that most, if not all, of Nashville's independent schools provide financial aid to financially strapped students. Moreover, it is not uncommon for "benefactors" to provide additional aid to children whose parents are unable to qualify for adequate assistance under NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) guidelines. The notion that independent schools are only for the wealthy is simply unfounded. (For example, Harpeth Hall's website says that 17 percent of its student body receive financial aid.) Private school admissions directors—from Andover and Choate on down—are obsessed with diversity these days, and they back their stated enrollment objectives with money.

So, to be clear, what is newsworthy here are allegations that parents were "bribed" and that students on financial aid were discovered to be playing varsity sports—a violation of TSSAA rules—not just that some kids got tuition assistance from whatever source. It is possible, even likely, that some of the student athletes involved in the probe could have gotten tuition grants even if they hadn't been on the football team.

By: HamBoneHamBone on 1/9/12 at 3:05

This is absurd. The independent schools in the TSSAA should simply leave the organization. In North Carolina (NCISAA) and Virginia (VISAA), none of these occurrences would be illegal in any way. You think the reputations of those NC and VA schools in the eyes of the most elite colleges and universities in the US is harmed in any way? You think those schools in NC and VA don't have stellar athletic programs? Wrong and wrong. TAISTN schools play the fool like no others.

You want proof? Check out this article about a school with an extremely strong academic reputation in Raleigh, North Carolina. These kids would be drummed out of TSSAA in a heartbeat, yet in NC it's viewed with admiration:


Someone please tell me what the advantage is to TAISTN schools of being members of this banana republic called the TSSAA. What are they afraid of that causes them to stay as members of an organization that so constrains their ability to act in their own best interests?

Are not independent schools independent? Sheesh.

By: Left-of-Local on 1/9/12 at 3:06


By: BigPapa on 1/9/12 at 3:21

Anyone that thought it was a big accident that these great athletes were all attending MBA, Ensworth, BA, etc.. and didn't know they were being paid, parents promised jobs, etc.. You'd have to be a naive fool.

By: MediaObserver on 1/9/12 at 10:29

Although I have no direct ties with MBA nor direct knowledge of the abuse of TSSAA rules by area independent schools, I find the City Paper's "disclosure" statement almost laughable and the article's "objectivity" questionable at best. The article's "disclosure" statement neglects to point out (as noted by "ConsidertheSource" in his comment) the close ties between the Thompson and McGugin families. In addition, BOTH the fathers of DeWitt Thompson V and Dan McGugin have served on the MBA board together in the past and many would consider them to be the best of friends socially (the paper notes only that Mr. Thomson IV had been a board member).

As for the article's objectivity, I cannot believe that the reporter could not identify at LEAST one source by name (Mr. Whitehouse's blanket explanation/excuse that ALL sources feared being named "could do them irreparable harm" is extraordinarily poor journalism at best and irresponsible rumor mongering at worst).

Finally, is it just me or did the following text from the article strike anyone else as editorializing bordering on an attempt to paint Coach McGugin as an innocent victim:
"This is the world that McGugin, an alumnus, was brought up in and took pride in. He was sold on the culture and became a big part of a major source of pride for alumni — football."

I have "no dog in this fight" other than my questions about the accuracy and agenda of the paper, reporter and article on this issue.

By: karlwithak on 1/10/12 at 2:11

Wonder why they didn't disclose the FACT that the $1500 check came from none other than KARL DEANS WIFE!

Ann Davis has some political power to keep that quiet.....ya think you get the whole story from reporters. Not even close. Money buys corruption and silence. Look it up.

By: dargent7 on 1/10/12 at 5:15

A $1,500 check? So, what?
How about girls, cars, suits, dinners, and more cash than you can shake a stick at.
This is chump change.
Everyone over- reacts...look at Ohio State. Half the players were suspended, and the coach fired, for selling a jersey, ring, or a sperm sample.
Let's not even talk about Penn State.

By: Rasputin72 on 1/10/12 at 7:59

I am familar with 60 years of MBA history. There have been scholarships given to athletes for as long as I can remember. Only until Carlton Flatt at Brentwood Academy perfected the art of recruiting and scholarshiping athletes has the practice become the issue that it is today.
Anyone who does not believe that Brad Gioia was complicit in the "beat Ensworth" and Brentwood Academy recruiting and scholarship practice does not know one thing about Gioia.
Young Dan McGugin took the fall. Ensworth and Brentwood Academy will continue to operate as they have and MBA will continue to turn out more students acceptable to Yale,Vanderbilt,Harvard,Princeton,Stanford,Virginia,Northwestern and Duke.
Gioia has learned an important lesson that is paramount in the world of success at any level. "Never play in another man's game"

By: Nitzche on 1/10/12 at 9:27

Anne Davis, you mean her last name is not Dean?

By: Loner on 1/10/12 at 11:46

Corruption in private high schools? In Nashville, Tennessee, buckle of the Bible Belt? Say it isn't so.

I went to Wikipedia and checked out the history of MBA and its original benefactor and creator. Here's a choice snippet:

"(Montgomery) Bell was noted for sharp business practices; it was said of him that he would never pay a debt unless sued for it. He was also reputed to frequent prostitutes and to force his attentions upon female slaves. Earlier in his life he was also quick to whip male slaves for the slightest offense and was noted for the ferocity with which he would pursue those who ran away; later in his life he came to regard slavery as a great moral wrong and at the time of his death was in the process of freeing his slaves and arranging passage for many of them to Liberia."

So, when Bell finally got religion on the slavery issue, late in life and after becoming a tycoon thanks to their sweat and blood, he wanted to send the no-longer-needed freed slaves back to Africa...he did not want their kind hanging around as free men..."Back to Africa, ye Negroes! I'll pay your fare...one-way, of course."

Sounds like the school honoring this Bell character has a bad Karma problem...and, BTW, its logo is functionally illegible...and an all-boys school sounds like a perfect setting for Coach Sandusky types...just sayin'.

Keep digging, NCP...there's probably a lot more crap here.

By: Loner on 1/10/12 at 12:29

Here is a snippet from the website hosted by the Independent Schools of the Nashville Area, (ISNA). Montgomery Bell Academy, (MBA), is a member of the ISNA organization.

Ethical Principles:

The unqualified approval for full membership by the Independent Schools of the Nashville Area (ISNA) of any member school shall imply that school’s observance, in spirit and in deed, of high professional and ethical standards in its relations with its students, faculty, and employees and with other schools, particularly when there may be overlapping interests between schools with respect to faculty employment, student enrollment, and the recruitment of both faculty and students. The following guidelines are based on the concept that our strength as independent schools is derived both from the diversity that exists among us and from the support and cooperation that we can give each other. Certain admissions and hiring practices, such as raids on other schools’ students and teachers, should not be driven by marketing concerns to the extent that ethics are disregarded. (end snippet)

Looks to me like the TSSAA and ISNA talk the talk, but have difficulty walking the walk.

TSSAA and ISNA both need to get some internal investigations going and IMO they need to appoint some outside group to monitor compliance with their rules and regulations...self-policing is not working out and everybody knows it.

These private high schools are supposed to be teaching young people about fairness, ethics, honesty and compliance with the law; they are not setting a very good example for the youngsters to emulate.

If the real, but unspoken educational goal of these high-falutin high schools is to teach kids that it's a jungle out there and you must win, even if by cheating, then they are setting a marvelous example for the kids to follow.

As we adults all know, it actually is a jungle out there...maybe the kids should learn how to circumvent the rules and subvert the goals from these professionals - the administration, faculty, alumni and staff of these ISNA schools.

By: sharko20 on 1/10/12 at 12:41

Daniel McGugin was fired according to Brad Gioia because of the perception created on internet blogs of impropiety. Maybe it's now time for Mr. Gioia to go for the same reason.

Athletics isn't Mr. Gioia's top priority. Obviously, it brings in the big dollars he desires. He is much more interested in the debate team, the number of students that earn national merit scholarship recognition and acceptance by seniors to Ivy League schools and any other selective university.

This is not intended as a criticism of Gioia. Just the facts.

By: Loner on 1/10/12 at 1:08

If it's true, that the recipients of the check went public, only after their son was denied a starter position on MBA's football team, then it's a double tragedy for the young man involved...he sees the school cheating and he sees his parent's act of vengeful ingratitude. There is no virtue in their actions, just vice.

By: Red Rules on 1/12/12 at 10:58

your first word is key "If". In this case the truth has never been fully disclosed and it is doubtful that it ever will be. You self appointed yourself as judge, jury, and executionor on a "rumor". Not a classy act. It would have been fine had you weighed the alternative as well. For example; perhaps the source of that quote(the former coach) is not telling the truth and is trying to save his reputation?, Makes sense he would try to defame any and all that got in his way.
My point is unless you have ALL the facts, which very few folks under legal NDA's do, present a balanced viewpoint if you want any credibility.

By: Rasputin72 on 1/13/12 at 4:28

REDRULES.........The TSSAA just nailed the "Big Red" to the wall. Gioia has deflected any criticism of this school to the detriment of any individual for as long as he has been there. Today the school and the headmaster have been exposed as being just like the rest of those in the game of life,choice and decisions.