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NCAA penalizes Missouri in academic fraud case

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NCAA penalizes Missouri in academic fraud case
4:37 PM ET

  • Mark SchlabachESPN Senior Writer

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    • Senior college football writer
    • Author of seven books on college football
    • Graduate of the University of Georgia

The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions on Thursday banned Missouri’s football, baseball and softball teams from competing in the postseason this year and placed the athletics department on three years of probation as a result of academic fraud.

The penalties were handed down after a two-year investigation into alleged academic fraud at the SEC institution.

The football, baseball and softball programs will have a 5 percent reduction in scholarships for the 2019-20 academic year. They also will have a seven-week ban on unofficial visits, a 12.5 percent reduction in official visits and evaluation days, and a seven-week ban on recruiting communications and off-campus recruiting evaluation days.

The NCAA also fined Missouri $5,000, plus 1 percent of each of its budgets in football, baseball and softball.

Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk issued a statement saying the school will file an 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. 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 wrote.

“It is important to note that this was the action of one individual, who acted unilaterally and outside of the expectations that we have established for our staff members.”

Despite the sanctions, highly prized quarterback transfer Kelly Bryant plans to stay at Missouri, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Chris Low.

PowerMizzou.com first reported that Bryant, the former Clemson quarterback who announced his transfer to Missouri last month, would not look to join a different team. Bryant’s longtime personal trainer, Ramon Robinson, also confirmed to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the player would stay with the Tigers.

Bryant was 16-2 as a starter for Clemson, including leading the Tigers to the College Football Playoff in 2017 and starting the first four games of this past season. He will have a chance to step in immediately as a graduate transfer.

Former Missouri tutor Yolanda Kumar alleged in November 2016 that she improperly assisted 42 student-athletes after she was groomed by her superiors to commit what she called “academic dishonesty.” Kumar alleged that she completed online courses and took final exams for Missouri men’s basketball and football players.

The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions found that Kumar violated NCAA ethical conduct, academic misconduct and academic extra benefits rules when she completed academic work for 12 student-athletes. The NCAA did not find credible evidence that her colleagues directed her to complete the athletes’ work, the NCAA said in its report.

“Simply put, 12 student-athletes did not complete their own work,” the NCAA report said.

The NCAA found that Kumar improperly completed work for six student-athletes in two different math courses at Missouri, as well as work for six other student-athletes in math courses at other schools. In one instance, according to the NCAA, Kumar completed an entire course for a Missouri football player. The NCAA report said Kumar also assisted two football players in completing Missouri’s math placement exam.

“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,” the NCAA report said. “She continued that she felt pressure to make sure the student passed and resorted to completing the student-athlete’s coursework. … 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.”

Kumar was given a 10-year show-cause order, in which any NCAA member attempting to hire her must restrict her from any athletic-related duties.

In November 2016, Missouri announced that it was conducting an internal investigation into Kumar’s claims. Kumar told the Post-Dispatch that she met with NCAA and Missouri investigators in January 2017. During that meeting, according to Kumar, she admitted to taking final exams for four athletes.

In April 2018, Sterk wrote Kumar a letter confirming that the university’s investigation revealed that she provided student-athletes with impermissible academic assistance.

“Such conduct is contrary to NCAA rules,” Sterk wrote. “Moreover, such conduct is a serious violation of academic integrity standards of the University of Missouri, and the antithesis of our core values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence.”

In the letter, Sterk informed Kumar the university was disassociating her from its athletics program.

Kumar set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for her legal fees and living expenses, and she told the Post-Dispatch that she wanted to sell the evidence she had collected during the investigation to pay the balance of her university tuition.

According to the Kansas City Star, Kumar worked as a graduate statistics instructor at Missouri for five years from September 2004 to June 2009 and served as an adjunct math instructor for three years from September 2010 to June 2013. She also was an adjunct statistics instructor from April 2011 to September 2011. Missouri defensive lineman A.J. Logan was suspended for six games during the 2017 season as a result of the investigation, and defensive back T.J. Warren served a multigame suspension as well.

In a different case in October 2017, the Committee on Infractions announced that it could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA academic rules when its student-athletes took “deficient” courses in the Department of African and Afro-American studies. The NCAA found two violations in the UNC case — the former department chair and a former secretary failed to cooperate in the investigation.

In its report on Thursday, the Committee on Infractions attempted to distinguish the two rulings.

“Among other differences, UNC stood by the courses and the grades it awarded student-athletes,” the report said. “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.”

The Tigers were placed on one year of probation in August 2016, after the NCAA alleged the school failed to monitor its men’s basketball program when it did not fully vet or follow up on internship opportunities provided by a booster for student-athletes and a recruit.

The NCAA alleged a second booster also provided impermissible benefits to 11 men’s basketball players and three members of one player’s family. The total amount of impermissible inducements and extra benefits provided by the two boosters totaled $11,402.

The Tigers had already self-imposed a one-year postseason ban in 2015-16 and scholarship reductions in that case.

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