NCAA rejects Mizzou appeal, leaving postseason bans in place
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NCAA rejected an appeal by the University of Missouri to limit or overturn sanctions for infractions tied to the case of a former tutor Tuesday, angering school officials and leaving in place postseason bans in three high-profile sports along with scholarship and recruiting restrictions.
The school had filed a 64-page brief to the NCAA’s appeals committee in March, arguing that the penalties handed down Jan. 31 were contrary to precedent, not supported or appropriate given the nature of the allegations and could have a chilling effect on future NCAA enforcement.
The five-member NCAA infractions appeals committee rejected those assertions, and said in its decision it was “hesitant to overturn a penalty within the appropriate penalty guidelines unless there is a clear indication of arbitrary decision-making.”
“I could not be more upset with this decision,” said Mun Choi, the president of the University of Missouri System. “Mizzou supporters across the state and nation have every reason to be outraged, and college sports fans across the country should be concerned about this decision.”
The case in question dates to 2016, when tutor Yolanda Kumar acknowledged she had violated NCAA rules by doing course work and ensuring athletes in football, baseball and softball passed certain courses. The school immediately launched an investigation and self-imposed many penalties, hoping its proactive approach would curry favor when the NCAA rendered its punishment.
The Tigers were instead hit with postseason bans and additional penalties within each sport while the entire athletic department was placed on probation.
“Today’s decision raises serious questions about whether the current NCAA enforcement system encourages or discourages cultures of compliance and integrity,” Missouri chancellor Alexander Cartwright and athletic director Jim Sterk said in a joint statement. “While we have exhausted our NCAA appeal avenues, we will continue to advocate for meaningful reform within the NCAA.”
Cartwright and Sterk were expected to discuss the case in greater detail later Tuesday at the Sprint Center, where the men’s basketball team was playing in the Hall of Fame Classic.
The Tigers’ basketball programs were not involved in the case.
“Today, about 180 student-athletes who had nothing to do with the actions of one rogue part-time employee will pay a steep price,” their statement said. “NCAA enforcement officials noted that prior to the violation the university employed a robust institutional system to ensure rules compliance. Once the problem was known, we self-reported immediately, held individuals accountable and cooperated with the investigation in what NCAA officials described as ‘exemplary’ fashion.”
The most immediate impact is that the football program, which needed to beat Arkansas on Friday to become bowl-eligible, will be staying home this postseason regardless of the outcome.
“I hate the news for our program and for our seniors who have represented the university in a very positive way,” football coach Barry Odom said. “This decision negatively impacts their short experience in life as college student-athletes who had nothing to do with this situation. It’s a tough lesson to be dealt, but they will learn from this and motivationally use it later in life.”
The penalties could have long-term ramifications for Missouri, too.
The school has struggled for both success and relevance in its highest-profile sports since it left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, and now the Tigers must deal with recruiting and scholarship reductions that put them at an additional competitive disadvantage.
“I am absolutely heartbroken and disappointed by the committee’s decision,” softball coach Larissa Anderson said. “The NCAA claims to value the student-athlete experience, but this decision continues to cause unnecessary harm to a group of innocent student-athletes.”
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a longtime Tigers fan who blasted the initial penalties, issued a statement Tuesday in which he said, “the NCAA made the absolute wrong decision here.”
“The facts in this case clearly do not support these unfair, unwarranted sanctions,” Blunt said. “The University of Missouri did the right thing by self-reporting the actions of the tutor and a small number of players. The NCAA is punishing current players for actions that occurred years ago.”
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said other schools in similar cases received less severe punishments.
“It is regrettable that so many innocent current Missouri student-athletes across three sports will miss postseason opportunities due to actions for which they were not responsible,” he said. “While it is important to hold accountable those individuals who engage in unethical behavior and conduct that fails to meet our expectations for integrity in college athletics, it is also important to fully consider the nuances and unique set of circumstances present in each case.”