Three University of Missouri athletic programs face penalties following an NCAA investigation into academic fraud.
The NCAA announced its ruling Thursday following an investigation that began in November 2016. The findings were centered on the Mizzou football, softball and baseball programs with the sanctions being highlighted by a one-year postseason ban for each program.
The competition ban was shock to Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk, who said in his conference call that he thought Missouri might get probation.
The investigation found violations by former MU tutor Yolanda Kumar, who publicly claimed allegations of academic fraud against MU in 2016.
The NCAA said in its news release that Kumar “violated NCAA ethical conduct, academic misconduct and academic extra benefits rules when she completed academic work for 12 student-athletes, according to a Division I Committee on Infractions panel.”
Sterk disagreed with the severity of the NCAA’s sanctions and will appeal the ruling. Missouri will work with Mike Glazer, who has worked with Missouri in the past, to help with the appeal.
“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,” Sterk said in an emailed statement. “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.”
Sterk, in a conference call, said he is not sure how long the appeals process will take, but said "it could last months and even up to half a year."
The NCAA report found that the academic fraud violations began in the summer of 2015 and continued through the summer of 2016.
Also in that report, the committee indicated that Kumar – who was hired by Missouri in 2010 and resigned in 2016 – was acting alone in the academic fraud cases. In her interview with the NCAA and MU, Kumar said that she was pressured to help student-athletes pass their courses. The NCAA stated “the investigation did not support that her colleagues directed her to complete the student-athletes' work.”
Still, the NCAA found the academic fraud claims to be Level I violations, the most severe to the NCAA. In the NCAA's report, it said that Missouri acknowledged that the violations were Level I violations.
"Academic integrity and unethical conduct strike at the heart and core of NCAA values," Dave Roberts, the chief hearing officer for the panel and special advisor to the president of the University of Southern California, said. "In this particular case, given the fact the parties acknowledged this conduct occurred and brought the case before us, the association prescribes those penalties."
According to the NCAA's website, Level I violations "undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA collegiate model as set forth in the Constitution and bylaws, including any violation that provides or is intended to provide a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage, or a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit."
Because of the severity of the violations, the NCAA handed MU a host of sanctions, the biggest of them being the one-year postseason ban for the MU football team for the 2019-20 season. The softball and baseball team's one-year postseason bans will go into effect this season.
Sterk said he attended a hearing in the summer of 2018 and has been waiting for the NCAA's report since that hearing. When it was released he was, "Shocked and dismayed," by the sanctions.
“Once these issues were brought to our attention in November 2016, the university moved swiftly and fully cooperated with the NCAA Enforcement staff to jointly investigate the allegations that were made," he said in a statement.
Among other sanctions, the NCAA has placed MU on a three-year probation period, vacated records in which football, baseball and softball student-athletes competed in while ineligible, a 5 percent reduction in scholarships for the football, baseball and softball programs during the 2019-20 academic year, and various other recruiting restrictions.
MU will also be fined $5,000, plus 1 percent of each of the football, baseball and softball programs' budgets.
According to a document that details the appeals process on the NCAA's website, the approved process spells out a 110-day appeals timeline, but could take longer depending on the complexity of the case.
The first step of the appeal is for Missouri to inform the NCAA that is going to appeal the ruling. Once it does it is possible the postseason bans for the softball and baseball teams will not go into effect this year, as they would be on hold until the appeals process is finished.
Due to the postseason bans, the Committee of Infractions, in accordance with the NCAA bylaws, recommends that the one-year ineligibility requirement be waived for any student-athlete that decides to transfer from MU's baseball, softball and football programs.
The NCAA’s report did not name Kumar “due to her repeated threats to leak information about the case.” But along with the sanctions on the university, the NCAA instituted a 10-year show-cause order on Kumar. During that time any NCAA member school that hires Kumar must restrict her from any athletically related duties.
In the process of the violations the NCAA found that Kumar completed work for six student-athletes in two different math courses at the university.
Missouri determined three of the student-athletes violated the MU honor code, but was unable to determine if two of the student-athletes violated the code because of a lack of information and, according to the report, the sixth student-athlete was unresponsive to the inquiry.
The NCAA committee also found that Kumar completed math coursework from other schools for six of the student-athletes.
“In one instance she completed an entire course for a football student-athlete,” the statement said.
Missouri requires all students to take a math placement exam to determine whether they must complete a remedial math course before moving onto college algebra. The NCAA found that Kumar assisted two football student-athletes’ completion of MU’s math placement exam.
This is MU's second Level I violation in less than three years. In August of 2016 the NCAA released its report uncovering Level I infractions as two boosters gave impermissible benefits to then-coach Frank Haith's players dating back to 2011, among other violations. The total amount of extra benefits provided by the boosters was $11,402. In that case, MU instituted self-imposed sanctions of vacating the wins from the 2013-14 season, banning itself from the postseason and stripped itself of two scholarships. The NCAA accepted those sanctions, but added an additional year of probation, which ended on Aug. 1, 2017.
When considering what penalties to give Missouri, the panel reviewed the aggravating and mitigating factors. Included in the aggravating factors for Missouri were: a history of Level I, Level II or major violations by the institution and one or more violations that caused significant eligibility or substantial harm to a student athlete.
In the mitigating factors for MU were: prompt acknowledgement of the violation, acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures, affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter, an established history of self-reporting III or secondary violations and exemplary cooperation. MU also asserted these two other mitigating factors that the panel determined did not apply: prompt self-detection and self-disclosure of the violations and implementation of a system of compliance methods designed to ensure compliance and satisfaction of institutional/coaches' control standards.
The NCAA report specifies that while MU promptly self-reported the violations, it did not promptly self-detect them.
Sterk, in his conference call, stood by the thought that Missouri will fight the ruling.
"We expect to win that appeal," Sterk said.