football Edit

Mizzou leadership blasts NCAA, sets forth path from here

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A day after Missouri administrators learned that its sanctions stemming from an academic misconduct case, including a postseason ban, would remain intact, and about five hours after that decision was released to the public, athletics director Jim Sterk still found himself choking up as he spoke with reporters in Kansas City. During an impromptu press conference in the Sprint Center before the Tiger basketball team played Oklahoma in the Hall of Fame Classic, Sterk and MU chancellor Alexander Cartwright blasted the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals committee for failing to change the decision from the Committee on Infractions that arrived nearly 10 months ago.

“Last night when we received our decision, obviously disappointed, and then shock quickly set in, and now I’m just angry,” Sterk said. “... The NCAA has proven again it cannot effectively serve its membership and the student-athletes it’s supposed to protect.”

“Mizzou and the NCAA enforcement staff determined it was one rogue, part-time tutor that was responsible … We did everything to fully meet the NCAA’s expectations for Division One membership, while also being cited for our robust compliance program by the NCAA staff. So now the NCAA is penalizing 180 of our football, softball and baseball student athletes, and does not allow them an opportunity to compete in the postseason this year. I ask, to the membership to Dr. (Mark) Emmert, to the NCAA staff, where's the justice in that?”

Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk and chancellor Alexander Cartwright.
Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk and chancellor Alexander Cartwright. (Cassie Florido)

Sterk and Cartwright repeatedly called the decision, which will result in Missouri’s football, baseball and softball teams being banned from the postseason in 2020 as well as docked five percent of their scholarships and facing recruiting restrictions, a failure by the NCAA. Both spoke of a need for reform. Cartwright even said the university owes it to every member institution to seek more consistency and fairness from investigations.

“I think that our athletic directors, our presidents and chancellors and commissioners need to collectively decide where we want to go,” said Sterk. “The current system is broken."

Sterk stressed that Missouri received more harsh sanctions for the work of “one rogue, part-time tutor” than other schools, most notably Mississippi State, have received for similar violations. Further exacerbating the frustration was the fact that Sterk and Cartwright no longer have any remaining recourse to undo these sanctions. Sterk said he spoke to a law firm twice, once about six months ago and once after the Mississippi State decision, about potential legal recourse. He was told the school had no legal footing if the appeal was upheld.

Sterk also said he didn’t get to have any back-and-forth with the Infractions Appeals committee or anyone from the NCAA after learning Missouri’s appeal had been denied. He never got an explanation for the ruling aside from the decision the committee released to the public or for why the appeals process stretched out across 19 weeks. “There’s probably a few questions I’d like to have an answer (to),” said Sterk.

One of the central themes of Missouri’s “Make it Right” campaign, launched following the announcement of the initial sanctions, has been an assertion that such harsh sanctions for a school that was recognized for its exemplary cooperation would create a “chilling effect” on cooperation in the future. Sterk and Cartwright reiterated that belief Tuesday.

“We acted with the highest integrity, we immediately self reported,” Cartwright said. “We opened up completely to the NCAA enforcement staff work with them, went through the process we received exemplary cooperation throughout this entire process. And in the end, we receive sanctions that others with comparable cases, did not receive at all. That creates a truly chilling effect on compliance.”

However, both Sterk and Cartwright went on to say that Missouri would not do anything differently if it finds itself facing NCAA violations in the future. The athletics department would continue to cooperate with the NCAA and hope for a better result.

“If we found out that something was happening, we would immediately self report,” Cartwright said. “We would immediately work with the enforcement staff. We would do all the things that we did. We would certainly hope that we'd get a different outcome.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Sterk added. “It’s an NCAA rule.”

Among the other issues the Missouri administration took with Tuesday’s decision, Sterk and Cartwright disagreed with the appeals committee’s assertion that it didn’t have the authority to determine whether the Committee on Infractions appropriately weighed aggravating and mitigating factors. In its decision, the appellate committee stated that two additional mitigating factors could have applied to Missouri’s case, as the school argued, but more is required to change the outcome than disagreement with the COI’s sanctions. The committee needed to find proof that the COI made a clear error in judgment, and it failed to find such evidence. Sterk, meanwhile, speculated that North Carolina’s recent academic fraud case, for which the Tar Heels were not penalized, played a factor in Missouri’s harsh initial sanctions even though it should not have.

“We feel that they had the authority to make a decision, but they chose to say that the membership needs to consider this,” Cartwright said. “I think they should have taken that on themselves and made a decision that was the right thing to do. Certainly, if I have a committee at the university and we know that there's an injustice that could happen, potentially, because of particular processes that are in place, I would want them to bring that to me and say, look, there's a real concern here, we may want to think about doing this differently.”

Sterk once again lambasted the COI’s decision to include scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions in this decision. He noted that Missouri’s violations “had nothing to do with recruiting” and that those penalties take away opportunities from current student-athletes rather than those responsible of committing violations. He also noted that the athletics department withheld several of the guilty student-athletes from competition when the transgressions were first discovered.

Even more damaging for Missouri than the sanctions themselves could be the fact that the school is not eligible to receive its share of football postseason revenue from the SEC due to the bowl ban. Sterk has previously estimated that cost around $8 million. Cartwright said Tuesday that the academic campus will loan the athletics department money to overcome that deficit, and the athletics department will eventually pay the university back.

“We will help the athletics department to get through that, and most likely through a long process,” said Cartwright.

“It will be a pay-back method,” Sterk added. “The athletics department did it with the move from the Big 12. Similar to that.”

Sterk complimented baseball coach Steve Bieser, softball coach Larissa Anderson and especially football coach Barry Odom for their handling of the appeal. Missouri’s football team will play its final regular-season game of the season Friday at Arkansas. Sterk said he had a strategy session with the football coaches Tuesday to plan the best way to minimize the impact of the recruiting sanctions.

However, Sterk also said he believes the uncertainty over the sanctions, and especially how long that uncertainty loomed, played a part in the Tigers’ recent five-game losing streak. Sterk also said that the NCAA’s decision would have no bearing on the athletics department’s decision whether or not to retain Odom.

“This is completely separate, although Barry has done a really good job (dealing with the sanctions),” Sterk said. “We’re focusing on this today, and after the season we’ll talk about that."

Ultimately, while Sterk and Cartwright were disappointed by Tuesday’s news, they hope that the decision can rally both reform within the NCAA and support among the fanbase.

“I've had a lot of questions about what can people do to help us,” Cartwright said, “and what can they do to support us continue to do what you've been doing. Support us, support our student-athletes, show up at games. Fill seats and let everybody know that you understand that Mizzou stands for what is right. and you'll always support what is right.”