'Bring it on': Missouri vows to fight back against 'unjust' NCAA ruling

Missouri head coach Barry Odom reacts as the players walk off the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Missouri head coach Barry Odom reacts as the players walk off the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

“Shocking.”

That’s the word Missouri head coach Barry Odom used to describe the news that came down from the NCAA on Thursday. The news, which you know by now, is that the Tigers’ football program was hit with a postseason ban for next season as a result of academic misconduct perpetrated by a former Missouri tutor.

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According to the NCAA, the tutor “completed an entire course” for one Missouri football player and “assisted” two others with the school’s math placement exam. The postseason ban for the 2019-20 season was part of a slew of sanctions from the NCAA. The school’s baseball and softball programs were also penalized.

The school said Thursday that it will appeal the decision, which chancellor Alexander Cartwright called “harsh and inconsistent.” Odom echoed that sentiment, calling the sanctions “completely unjust and unfair.”

Jim Sterk, the school’s athletic director, said the school will “aggressively fight” the penalties. That seemed to start Friday.

“There’s not anybody sitting around saying poor, pitiful Missouri, I guarantee you,” Odom said at a Friday news conference (via PowerMizzou.com). “Bring it on.”

Odom: ‘Those guys didn’t do anything wrong’

Among the sanctions imposed were recruiting restrictions and a scholarship reduction for the 2019-20 academic year. Odom, who noted that no players on the current roster were involved with the misconduct, questioned the intent of those NCAA penalties.

“You look at some of the recruiting stipulations at this point that are put out there. It had zero to do with recruiting infractions. You talk about loss of scholarships, that’s affecting kids’ lives,” Odom said. “For me personally, there was a number of surprises within what we received back, but those two stand out, along with the opportunity to play 12 games this year and maybe not any more.”

After hearing from administration, Odom said he spoke with his staff — most of whom are on the road recruiting — to inform them of the news on Thursday morning. A team meeting followed. He said Friday he was not given the impression that any of his players, specifically the seniors who would be immediately eligible at another school, plan to transfer. Other schools have already reached out, Odom said.

“For our seniors, with what they’ve built over the last three or four years, we’re on the verge of something really special. They want to be a part of that. Those guys didn’t do anything wrong,” Odom said. “I don’t have any indication that any of them are leaving at this time. There’s been a number of schools that have reached out to a heavy percentage of them. That’s noted and we’ll continue to work and build this team.”

Multiple reports Thursday indicated that Kelly Bryant, a graduate transfer quarterback who transferred in from Clemson, intends to stay at Mizzou.

University, state leadership speaks out against NCAA

Beyond Odom’s meeting with the local press, an array of university and state officials made statements of their own, strongly opposing the NCAA decision. The most forceful came from Jon Sundvold, the chair of Missouri’s board of curators. Sundvold specifically addressed the inconsistencies exhibited by the NCAA in adjudicating academic fraud cases.

“The NCAA Committee on Infractions made a mistake yesterday. We expect leadership from institutions to admit when they make a mistake, correct that mistake and move forward. The NCAA should do the same,” Sundvold said. “As David Roberts, NCAA Committee on Infractions panel chief officer, said, ‘Missouri did the right thing.’ I now expect the NCAA to do the right thing. If it doesn’t, a dangerous precedent has been set.”

Sundvold is referring to Roberts’ Thursday teleconference. Roberts essentially conceded that because Missouri was forthright with what occurred, including admitting to Level I violations, it faced a harsher punishment compared to schools that have fought back during other investigations. The infamous case involving North Carolina — where student-athletes were offered no-show courses — was specifically noted in the NCAA’s infractions report:

The conduct at issue in this case is also distinguishable from the COI’s decision in University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2017). Among other differences, UNC stood by the courses and the grades it awarded student-athletes. In support of that position, UNC asserted that although courses were created and graded by an office secretary, student-athletes completed their own work. Here, by contrast, Missouri acknowledged that the tutor completed student-athletes’ work and, in most instances, this conduct violated its honor code.

The penalties for North Carolina were nowhere near as severe as Missouri’s. In Missouri’s case, the NCAA said the tutor acted on her own and was not directed by her superiors to complete coursework for athletes. The tutor went public with the academic misconduct in 2016, putting the case on the NCAA’s radar.

“When an individual acts independently of their employer, violates rules, commits extortion and shops her accusations to the highest bidder, why would that institution be punished unjustly after doing the right thing?” Sundvold’s statement reads.

“Inconsistent actions by the NCAA continue to erode its credibility. If it doesn’t admit and correct this unprecedented fault, many Power Five schools, like Missouri, will question the need for the NCAA as a governing body.”

The school will soon begin the appeals process with the hopes that the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee will overturn at least some of the penalties imposed Thursday.

“We’re going to fight with everything that we’ve got,” Odom said.

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