Mizzou’s problem was doing the right thing

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson
AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

Even though they were bowl eligible for the 2019 season, the Mizzou football team won’t be heading to a bowl game because the NCAA upheld their ruling of a post-season ban and other penalties due to infractions by a tutor more than three years ago.

It was in late November of 2016 that we got word…via her own Facebook post…that former University of Missouri athletic tutor Yolanda Kumar had allegedly done work and even taken online classes for football, baseball and softball players at the school.  Before going to her bosses to tell them what had transpired, in a fit of guilt Kumar went to social media to tell her story and launch an investigation by the NCAA.

There doesn’t seem to be any dispute that Kumar did indeed provide too much assistance to athletes.  Both Missouri’s own internal investigation and the NCAA’s determined that she was a rogue player.  She claimed that she was pressured by people in the athletic compliance department to make sure athletes passed courses.  No other tutors came forward to say that they were pressured by the university, and no finding was made by the school or the NCAA that she was pressured.  She did what she did on her own.

While Kumar and the players clearly violated rules, she seems to be a bit sketchy.  She has a history of bouncing checks.  About a month after resigning from Mizzou and weeks after news of improprieties broke, she created a GoFundMe page for her own “legal and living expenses”  In March of 2017, a little over three months after her Facebook post, Kumar went to Twitter and wrote “For only $3,089.99, you can know who didn’t do their own work.”  That amount was a reference to what she owed Mizzou because she hadn’t paid the necessary fees to get her transcripts.  Apparently nobody took her up on her offer.  She later threatened, again on Twitter, to simply release the information she had, but never did.

On January 31, 2019, The NCAA hit Mizzou with their penalties, and they seemed severe for an institution that had cooperated and, the NCAA agreed, didn’t know what the tutor was doing.  Penalties included…

  • Three years of probation.
  • A 10-year show-cause order for the former tutor. During that period, any NCAA member school employing the tutor must restrict her from any athletically related duties.
  • A 2018-19 academic year postseason ban for the baseball and softball programs.
  • A 2019-20 academic year postseason ban for the football program.
  • A 5 percent reduction in the amount of scholarships in each of the football, baseball and softball programs during the 2019-20 academic year.
  • Recruiting restrictions for each of the football, baseball and softball programs during the 2019-20 academic year, 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.
  • A 12.5 percent reduction in recruiting-person or evaluation days.

It was a stunning decision on many levels.  Mizzou didn’t know about what was happening, they self reported what had happened, and even according to the NCAA, cooperated to the highest level.  They did so as opposed to North Carolina, where for eighteen years courses were offered that allowed students to pass without attending and writing one paper.  Carolina got off because the classes…hundreds of them…were offered to the entire student body, not just athletes, although athletes were regularly steered to the “fake classes,”  The NCAA Statement  said “The panel concluded that (a) former department chair and former secretary did not cooperate with the investigation. The former department chair did not participate in the process and the former secretary did not cooperate until three years after the investigation began.”  Through obfuscation and outright dishonesty, North Carolina muddied the waters so much during a seven year investigation that the NCAA didn’t issue ANY penalties despite clear instances of academic fraud.

When Mizzou was hit with their penalties, here was one reaction from David Roberts of the NCAA:

 

Mizzou appealed, and that appeal was heard in mid-July.  In late August, the NCAA NEGOTIATED a settlement with Mississippi State for a strikingly similar infraction, but their penalty didn’t include a post-season ban.  A tutor was taking classes for student-athletes, or helping them too much, and the Bulldogs maintained bowl eligibility.  At that point, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk was reasonable in feeling that the NCAA would lift the bowl ban.  Same infractions, same penalties, right?

More than four months after the appeal the NCAA did nothing.  They maintained the exact same punishment for Mizzou.  It took that long to figure out that they didn’t want to do anything, let alone the right thing.  Unlike North Carolina, Missouri’s athletic department, according to the NCAA, cooperated fully with them.  North Carolina got no penalty.   Mizzou got hit hard.  Unlike Mississippi State, for an identical infraction, Missouri didn’t get a chance to negotiate a settlement.  Mississippi State  WAS able to negotiate not getting a bowl ban.  Missouri did.

There is only one lesson for schools here.  When you learn something bad, hide it.  Don’t say a word, and cover it up.  And if the offender needs money, just offer money to make it go away.  What’s the point of cooperating if you’re going to get hit harder than schools that lie to the NCAA?

I’ve always appreciated that Missouri’s athletic program, while never as pure as the driven snow (yes, I remember Dr. Detroit and Ricky Clemons), made efforts to cooperate with the NCAA.  If I’m the school’s administration, I wouldn’t be so quick to do that anymore.