NCAA hits Missouri football program with one-year postseason ban

Sam Cooper
Missouri is now ineligible for postseason play in 2019. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Missouri is now ineligible for postseason play in 2019. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Missouri football program was hit with a one-year postseason ban by the NCAA on Thursday.

The ban comes as a result of a former Mizzou tutor completing academic coursework for 12 student-athletes, including multiple football players. For one football player, the tutor “completed an entire course,” the NCAA said. The tutor also “assisted two football student-athletes’ completion of Missouri’s math placement exam.”

Thusly, the Tigers’ football program is banned from postseason play for the 2019-20 season. The school also must vacate records in which those football players participated while ineligible. Missouri will also have its scholarships reduced by five percent for the 2019-20 academic year.

Significant recruiting restrictions will also be implemented by the NCAA, including “a seven-week ban on unofficial visits, a 12.5 percent reduction in official visits, a seven-week ban on recruiting communications, a seven-week ban on all off-campus recruiting contacts and evaluations and a 12.5 percent reduction in recruiting-person or evaluation days.”

Football wasn’t the only Missouri athletic program hit with sanctions. The NCAA also penalized the school’s softball and baseball programs. In all, the tutor completed coursework for 12 student-athletes, the NCAA said. As a whole, Missouri athletics was given three years of probation and the tutor involved was given a 10-year show-cause penalty.

From the NCAA:

In its decision, the committee stated, “Simply put, 12 student-athletes did not complete their own work.” It continued that the tutor engaged in the activity despite receiving extensive and comprehensive education on appropriate tutoring practices.

For most of the student-athletes, the tutor completed online coursework that included assignments, quizzes or exams. She completed an entire course for one student-athlete and completed portions of a placement exam for two student-athletes.

NCAA: Missouri ‘acknowledged’ misconduct, North Carolina did not

In its full infractions report, the NCAA compared this case to the infamous academic fraud investigation at North Carolina. Simply put, Missouri admitted to misconduct while North Carolina did not:

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.

In a conference call with reporters, Dave Roberts of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions said that Missouri’s forthcomingness — the fact that it agreed that a Level I violation took place — contributed to the severity of the penalties imposed.

Missouri will appeal the ‘harsh’ ruling

Missouri said Thursday that it will appeal the NCAA’s ruling, which school chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright called “harsh and inconsistent.”

“We are shocked and dismayed by the penalties that have been imposed today and will aggressively fight for what is right,” Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said.

“The Committee on Infractions has abused its discretion in applying penalties in this case, and the university will immediately appeal this decision that has placed unfair penalties on our department and programs. It is hard to fathom that the university could be cited for exemplary cooperation throughout this case, and yet end up with these unprecedented penalties that could unfairly and adversely impact innocent current and future Mizzou student-athletes.”

Head coach Barry Odom later released a statement of his own.

The tutor went public about the ‘academic misconduct’ in 2016

This case made it onto the NCAA’s radar in 2016 after the tutor, Yolanda Kumar, went public with what transpired. In an interview with the Kansas City Star, Kumar said she was “groomed” to help athletes stay eligible and “felt harassed” to help athletes work through coursework. She said she was in regular contact with the school’s football and basketball academic coordinators.

“I don’t know how it got so bad, but most of my students were coming from those two people in the revenue-generating sports,” she told the Star. “Then, there’s someone telling you, ‘He needs this class to pass. Do you understand? He has to have this class to pass, Yolanda.’”

In announcing its decision Thursday, the NCAA said its investigation did not conclude that Kumar, who was not named in the report, acted on her own and her colleagues did not direct her to complete coursework for student-athletes. From the NCAA:

During her interview with the university and the NCAA enforcement staff, the tutor reported the way in which she was assigned one particular student-athlete to tutor was changed, and an academic coordinator contacted her directly to let her know the student needed to pass a course to graduate. She continued that she felt pressure to make sure the student passed and resorted to completing the student-athlete’s coursework, the committee said. The activity repeated itself with other academic coordinators and other student-athletes, so the tutor continued to complete varying degrees of academic work for student-athletes, according to the report.

Sterk said the tutor “acted unilaterally and outside of the expectations that we have established for our staff members.”

To read the NCAA’s full infractions report, click here.

What does this mean for Kelly Bryant and other Missouri seniors?

As has been the case in similar investigations at other schools, Missouri’s seniors will be able to transfer without penalty because of the postseason ban. That includes Kelly Bryant, the quarterback who transferred to Mizzou from Clemson in December. Bryant, after being passed on the depth chart by star freshman Trevor Lawrence, decided to leave Clemson after four games in order to preserve his redshirt and final season of eligibility. Lawrence led Clemson to a national championship.

Bryant chose to transfer to Missouri, which lost Drew Lock, a projected first-round pick. Bryant could certainly choose to stay at Missouri, where he is the heavy favorite to take over the starting role and improve his chances of making it to the NFL. But if a chance to play in the postseason once again is a big priority for Bryant, he will be free to move on to another school before the season begins.

(Update: Bryant will reportedly stay at Missouri)

Whether the transfer leniency will apply to non-seniors remains to be seen. The NCAA granted waivers for immediate eligibility for several underclassmen who left Ole Miss before the 2018 season, but under varying circumstances. For Missouri players, it could come down to a case-by-case basis.

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