KANSAS CITY, Mo. >> The NCAA handed one-year postseason bans and other penalties to Missouri’s football, baseball and softball programs while placing its entire athletic department on probation today after a two-year investigation revealed academic misconduct involving a former tutor.
The penalties mean that the Tigers’ highly regarded football team won’t be eligible for the SEC title game or a bowl game this fall. Their baseball and softball programs will not be allowed to participate in the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright said the school would appeal “this harsh and inconsistent decision.” Any appeal could take several months.
“We are shocked and dismayed by the penalties that have been imposed today and will aggressively fight for what is right,” 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.”
The Division I Committee on Infractions said the former tutor, Yolanda Kumar, admitted in late 2016 she had “violated NCAA ethical conduct, academic misconduct and academic extra benefits rules when she completed academic work for 12 student-athletes.”
Kumar told the panel she felt pressured to ensure athletes passed certain courses, primarily in mathematics. But according to the committee’s report, “the investigation did not support that her colleagues directed her to complete the student-athletes’ work.”
NCAA investigators said Kumar completed course work offered by Missouri, those offered by other schools and a math placement exam required of all students. In one instance, Kumar allegedly completed an entire course for a football player, whose name was not revealed.
The school began investigating after Kumar said on social media that she had committed academic fraud. Sterk sent a letter to Kumar that she also posted on social media in which he confirmed she had provided impermissible benefits and could no longer be associated with the athletic department.
“In this particular case, the institution, the tutor and enforcement all agreed this was a Level I case, which is severe misconduct,” said David Roberts, the chief hearing officer for the infractions panel and a special adviser to the president at Southern California. “The case starts off with that agreement and the association has put in place a penalty matrix.”
The NCAA acknowledged proactive steps by Missouri in investigating the academic fraud, but the penalties remained stiff.
Along with three years of probation and the postseason bans, the programs also must vacate any records for games that included participation by the 12 athletes. The programs will see a 5 percent cut in scholarships for the upcoming academic year and recruiting restrictions include a seven-week ban on unofficial visits, off-campus contacts and any communication with prospects.
The NCAA also fined the school $5,000 plus 1 percent of each program’s budget.
Kumar has already been barred by the university from working for the athletic department. She also received a 10-year show-cause order from the NCAA that bars her from working with athletes.
While the case is expected to draw comparisons to recent academic misconduct at North Carolina, the NCAA said it differed in that “UNC stood by the courses and grades it awarded student-athletes.”
“In support of that position,” the NCAA’s report said, “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.”
Roberts said the infractions committee has recommended legislative relief waivers for athletes affected by the ruling. That means those unable to participate in the postseason could transfer elsewhere without having to redshirt.
Three years ago, the NCAA placed the Tigers on one year’s probation after finding the school failed to monitor its basketball program in a case involving internship opportunities provided by a booster. It also found that a second booster provided impermissible benefits to 11 members of the men’s basketball program totaling nearly $12,000.
Roberts said academic misconduct “strikes to the heart of the NCAA,” and that “we looked into the facts and we implemented the rule. From our point of view, this case should be over.”
Missouri officials made it clear that won’t be the case.
“This was the action of one individual, who acted unilaterally and outside of the expectations that we have established for our staff members,” Sterk said. “We will move forward living up to our frequently stated ideal of ‘Win it Right’ and vigorously defend this unjust penalty.”