More information is being revealed in the recent departure of Florida A&M University’s former athletic director Kortne Gosha. Get the full story from Brett Rutherford at WFSU.
On April 20, FAMU Athletic Director Kortne Gosha resigned without notice. The abruptness of his departure caught many FAMU stakeholders by surprise. Now, public records requested by WFSU show more of what led to Gosha’s exit during what appeared, from the outside, to be a successful tenure.
“My alignment and core values are very important to me, and there is no secret that we created a transformational student-athlete experience second-to-none that has elevated Florida Agricultural & Mechanical—that will place them on a trajectory far beyond my tenure,” Gosha said in a statement accompanying his resignation.
“I am incredibly proud of the work and the people that have done that work in such a short time. We have elevated the program and institutional reputation to a level of new credibility.”
Now, an investigation by WFSU shows more of what led to Gosha’s exit during what appeared, on the outside, to be a successful tenure.
Under Gosha, FAMU became the first school to make LeBron James’s Nike brand their official uniform sponsor. The football team is coming off a 9-3 season which saw them reach the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. And although the school’s move from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) to the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) was not orchestrated by Gosha, he oversaw the transition. Everything seemed to be moving in the right direction for an athletics department that was still rebounding from a five-year NCAA probation and a self-imposed postseason ban for the 2019-2020 school year.
Shortly after Gosha announced his resignation, FAMU released a report from GrayRobinson, a Florida law firm independent of the university. The firm was hired by the school to investigate the athletics department under Gosha’s leadership. The report outlines numerous failures which involved unauthorized licensing deals, unauthorized hiring of personnel, and NCAA violations. The report also said Gosha created a hostile workplace by failing to work cooperatively with other FAMU departments.
“It is clear from reviewing emails between Gosha and other FAMU administrators that Gosha was aware of his lack of authority and still failed to obtain the necessary approvals before entering into potentially legally-binding transactions,” wrote GrayRobinson attorney Scott Cole in a report called “Analysis of Grounds for Disciplinary Action Against Kortne Gosha.” The report is dated April 19, the day prior to Gosha’s resignation.
In a release of records, more information about that report made clearer the issues that plagued Gosha’s tenure as FAMU Athletics Director.
Unauthorized Licensing Deals
In February 2022, FAMU announced a deal with Urban Edge Network (UEN) had been reached, giving rights to UEN to stream FAMU sports content on their live-streaming platform, HBCU League Pass+. The GrayRobinson report stated that “Gosha and his team began direct negotiations with Urban Edge Network (UEN)” despite not being authorized to do so. Grambling State University announced a similar deal with UEN around the same time.
After the deals were announced, HBCU Gameday, a site covering HBCU athletics, reported that the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) sent out a reminder to all member schools that they are not authorized to sign national media rights deals to broadcast games linearly or digitally. The site also reports that UEN is now threatening to file a lawsuit against the SWAC, claiming that the conference is interfering in a business deal between them and PepsiCo. HBCU Gameday also obtained an e-mail sent by SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland in response to PepsiCo when they expressed concern about the UEN rights deals.
“It has been brought to my attention that several entities have approached some of our corporate partners and others regarding media buys for SWAC games.
“Just for your information, SWAC Conference games cannot be streamed or broadcasted on a national basis outside of the Conference agreements. In addition, Member Institutions cannot grant permission to other entities to broadcast games either linear or digitally on a national basis; all Conference games are restricted and can only be negotiated by the Conference Office,” the email said.
A month later, the SWAC announced a national media rights deal with a different company. Allen Media Group announced on March 15 that they were launching a streaming platform called HBCU GO and had reached a deal with the SWAC, beginning in the 2022-2023 season.
This wasn’t the only time Gosha was accused of participating in an unauthorized licensing deal. Earlier this year, the FAMU logo donned the NY Racing Team’s car that raced in a NASCAR event in Las Vegas. E-mails show Gosha authorized it, with no licensing contract in place, and without approval from the university’s Office of Communications.
“Gosha did not have delegate authority to bind the university to this licensing deal but proceeded to do so without executing a formal contract,” said the GrayRobinson report.
Records obtained by WFSU show Gosha tried to fire a former employee, Dakarai Calhoun, for what Gosha claimed was selling athletics equipment without authorization. There was also an anonymous letter about Calhoun that was submitted to the university’s audit department. The letter accused Calhoun of “stealing jerseys and helmets and giving them to players,” at the end of the season. It also claimed a fear of retaliation as the reason the author was anonymous.
An internal investigation by FAMU found the claims to be unsubstantiated. The only evidence was a video showing Calhoun removing a TV from the athletics office. When questioned, it was found the TV belonged to Calhoun and he provided a receipt. He also showed evidence that the allegedly “stolen” helmets were still there.
Gosha provided a list of items he claimed Calhoun had taken. Among that list, the TV, a MacBook, keys, helmets, miscellaneous tools, jerseys, golf products, 30 pairs of khakis, tennis, and track products. The MacBook was located, still in the office.
The list provided by Gosha “provides little additional information beyond Gosha’s July 12, 2021 statement that Calhoun removed ‘helmets, tools, apparel, a TV, and various supplies,’” said the GrayRobinson report.
The report says Calhoun also provided copies of text messages showing athletics administration staff told him to provide clothes for the administrators to wear for travel and give to donors. Calhoun also gave investigators proof that he was doing what athletics officials told him to do.
According to the public records obtained by WFSU, Calhoun’s wife is Rica Calhoun, the university’s chief compliance and ethics officer.
Gosha’s disregard of university hiring procedures was also called into question.
He attempted to hire Phillip Butler as the women’s track and field coach—but the hire never went to approval by the university’s Human Resource Office. Gosha also allegedly gave Butler an offer letter that had university president Dr. Larry Robinson’s name on it—despite Robinson being completely unaware of any sort of offer being made, and his name being used. Gosha sent the letter to Robinson in an email claiming he worked with the university’s Human Resources department, but also admitted he had not involved HR until after he and his staff had already carried out the screening of the candidate and made the decision on the offer.
Robinson was not pleased.
“The hiring process, president’s approval hiring/firing within the department of athletics is not a ‘formality’ rather, it is a requirement,” said the report.
Gosha also tried to give Butler the title ‘Director of Track and Field’ despite the initial job posting being for a women’s track and field coach. In addition, the now-former athletics director tried to hire Butler as a consultant, before the employment was secure. During the time Butler was allegedly doing consulting work, he was using the firstname.lastname@example.org address. A review of the account showed Butler sent and received emails from the address, including from Gosha. He was conducting university business on a university email account without being an employee of FAMU. Using the email, Butler was recruiting, setting up student housing for athletes, and ordering clothing and equipment. Butler also had access to students’ personal information.
WFSU discovered that Butler’s use of the email address resulted in “potential FERPA violations by permitting athletics staff, university employees and students to interact with and unknowingly provide privileged and/or confidential information to a non-university employee.”
FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is a federal law that protects the privacy of students’ educational records and governs in what circumstances what information can be released, and to whom.
Two days after Gosha sent the email to Robinson, the president rejected the hire.
The pattern of miscommunication and sloppiness culminated in a self-reported NCAA infraction. During a January trip to a meet, the FAMU Track team was given a cash per diem to pay for meals in addition to the university purchasing meals for the track students. NCAA rules state that no more than one set of expenses can be claimed. Gosha authorized the food purchases, having missed the memo regarding the cash per diem.
The Post-Gosha Gameplan
The university is now searching for a new athletics director and announced an 18-member vetting committee that will submit recommendations to Robinson.
“We will build on the recent and historic achievements of this program with a keen focus on the success of our student-athletes in the classroom and in competition. The AD will work with our coaches and staff to meet and exceed the expectations of fans, friends, supporters, and those entities with compliance authority on and off-campus,” Robinson said. “I’m looking forward to the Search Committee doing its work thoroughly and expeditiously to help find the next leader of our athletic program at Florida A&M University.”
Michael Smith is now the interim athletic director, a role he initially tried on back in 2013. FAMU will conduct a national search for its next athletic director and will attempt to make a swift hire.
Gosha’s main supporter has been head football coach Willie Simmons. In a statement sent the day Gosha announced his resignation, Simmons said “know that no one is more disappointed in the recent events within the university athletic department than me. I’ve known Kortne for many years and was one of the first people (if not the first) he talked to here at the university when he expressed interest in our AD position. I witnessed firsthand the transformation made to this athletics department under his leadership.”
There had been some hints that Gosha’s time at FAMU would be short-lived. In a November 2021 Board of Trustees meeting, the university board chairman, Kelvin Lawson, called for a vote of confidence for Gosha, something that does not happen unless a person is in danger of being fired.