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COLUMBIA, MO. • As his department launches a public relations full-court press in response to the NCAA sanctions against his football, baseball and softball teams, Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk met with local media on Monday for about 40 minutes to discuss the recent penalties and the school’s looming appeals process.

Sterk and Andy Humes, MU’s executive associate AD for compliance, pulled back the curtain on how parts of the process have unfolded. A lot of what they discussed was detailed in the NCAA Committee on Infractions report, but this was MU’s chance to share their interpretation and opinions on the ruling.

THE CASE

• Of the 12 former MU student-athletes who were involved in the incidents of academic misconduct with former tutor Yolanda Kumar, nine competed when they were academically ineligible, meaning they appeared in games before the allegations were uncovered and MU self-imposed penalties. (The other three had already completed their playing eligibility when they committed violations.) Of the nine, seven were football players and one each came from the baseball and softball programs, which means the baseball and softball programs were handed the same penalties — postseason ban, recruiting restrictions, scholarship reductions — for having just one player involved.

“In softball it involved five or six instances of help with a homework assignment,” Humes said. “Pretty minimal stuff involving one student-athlete and that translated into postseason ban, recruiting penalties, scholarship reductions. Even in football, the number seven, that’s not a huge number when you look at these other ineligible player cases where postseason bans aren’t applied as penalties. It’s usually a vacation of wins if you play an ineligible player.”

• Kumar initially told the Post-Dispatch she committed academic fraud with 42 Mizzou athletes. Then how did the number get down to 12 in the ruling?

“The initial allegation involved more than 12,” Humes said. “At the end of the day we worked with the (NCAA) enforcement staff running that all down really thoroughly … very detailed information on that and it led to the determination that 12 violations occurred.”

• Sterk stressed that Mizzou’s angst isn’t with the NCAA per se – or even the NCAA enforcement staff that MU’s compliance department worked with closely during the past two years. Sterk and Humes indicated that MU and the NCAA enforcement staff worked well together while uncovering evidence for the case.

“There were no (NCAA) staff members on that Committee (on Infractions) that had a vote on that decision,” Sterk said. “Making sure we have the support of the NCAA is very important. The enforcement staff, that relationship and that result was positive on both fronts. This committee decided it wasn’t going to accept our summary disposition, so they wanted to bring us in for the hearing and then made this decision. It’s not acceptable where it ended up.”

• As for that summary disposition, here’s a refresher on how the process works: Once Mizzou discovers an NCAA violation, it works with the NCAA enforcement staff to produce findings and propose penalties to the Committee on Infractions. If the COI doesn’t agree with the findings, the committee can reject the summary disposition and move ahead with a hearing. That’s what happened in MU’s case. At the hearing last summer, the process moved along smoothly, Humes indicated.

“A lot of the discussion was procedural between the committee and enforcement staff,” he said. “Which is why this caught us off guard because there wasn’t discussion of penalties. I can’t remember who said it but there was a lack of heat in the room. It wasn’t tense. It wasn’t back and forth and hostile. Some of those (hearings) can be.”

• There seemed to be a disconnect between the NCAA enforcement staff and the COI when it came to their stances on Kumar and some of her unusual actions during the case, including the time in March 2017 when she offered to sell her evidence and described herself as “vengeful.” In July of 2018, she also threatened to publicly disclose all the names of the student-athletes involved in the case, long before the COI had made its ruling.

“We were working with enforcement jointly and I think they had a pretty good view of the former tutor and some of the actions going forward,” Humes said. “They saw that. They had a pretty good understanding. I don’t think the committee ever got that. They were worried about the due process part of her not being named (in the case), which I understood. But we had some arguments why they didn’t think she should be named. At the end of the day they decided she should, and that’s why the case kept dragging past the summary disposition part.”

• Last Friday on Bernie Miklasz’s radio show on 101 ESPN, Sterk said it was a “conflict of interest” for a co-chair of the Knight Commission to sit on the four-person COI panel that decided MU’s case. (The Knight Commission is an independent body aimed to "promote reforms that support and strengthen the educational mission of college sports.") Sterk didn’t say her name but was referring to Carol Cartwright, who also heads a working group aimed at pushing the NCAA to strengthen its authority to punish schools involved in athlete academic misconduct in light of the North Carolina's academic misconduct case.

Asked to elaborate on that opinion, Sterk said, “We didn’t know that going in (Cartwright headed the working group),” Sterk said. “That’s information that came out as we heard about that. I think that’s something the membership and overall the NCAA will need to look at as far as where it goes. There’s some distinct feelings (about academic reform) by the working group. Those haven’t been adopted by the NCAA membership yet. Those will be questions that have to be answered.”

THE PENALTIES

• Sterk indicated that MU won’t necessarily appeal all of the penalties. MU expected probation and vacation of wins. It sounds like MU won’t appeal either. “Beyond that is where it gets into the excessive range,” Sterk said.

As for the postseason bans, if the baseball and softball teams anticipate they won’t make postseason tournaments this spring — either the SEC or NCAA tourneys or both—they can request that their postseason bans be applied this season. There is not a specific deadline where the teams would have to make that call.

As for the football team, the appeals process could be ongoing when the season starts, which means the Tigers could kick off their first game unsure if their postseason ban will be upheld. As long as the appeals committee hasn’t made a final ruling, the ban won’t go into effect. But it’s possible the ruling could come in October or November. If the ban is upheld, the Tigers won’t play in a bowl and will miss out on up to $9 million in SEC revenue. Or the ban could be overturned and the Tigers will go on about their way to the postseason.

THE APPEAL

• Mizzou is adding to its army of lawyers. Michael Glazier will continue to spearhead the case, though Rick Evrard, another attorney with a deep background in NCAA cases, is joining the team, along with Chris Griffin, another attorney from Tampa, Fla. How much will the legal process cost Mizzou?

“It’s hard to guess at this point,” Humes said. “A lot of it is based on hourly rates and how things end up. It won’t be cheap.”

• Mizzou will not only appeal that the penalties were overreaching but will appeal the classification of the violations, Humes said. The COI uses the NCAA penalty matrix to apply penalties, but MU will argue that the committee abused its discretion.

“There’s a bylaw that allows you under special circumstances to apply penalties above or below the matrix,” Humes said. “Hands aren’t totally tied. There are options with cases, especially cases with exemplary cooperation. Often times that bylaw is used to provide less penalties than what’s used in the matrix. … So if it’s Level I mitigated there’s a lower range of penalties. Even the classification aside we feel the penalties within the matrix don’t follow precedent. You don’t see typically cases that don’t involve recruiting getting every single subtype of recruiting violation. It hit every one of them, which is rare.”

“That flies in the face of precedent for this kind of case,” he added. “Getting any type of postseason ban is unheard of.”

• What if the scholarship reduction is upheld? Would Mizzou have to cut scholarships before or during the season? Humes said MU will appeal the reductions so that if they are upheld they’re pushed back to a later season.

“That is one thing we’ll definitely be bringing up on the appeal,” Humes said. “It shows some disconnect on the decision and applying scholarship reductions. Usually they’re for a further year, so teams can plan for that. You can imagine if a decision comes down in, say August, and it upholds the scholarship reduction. I don’t see how we can go to four current kids and say, ‘You’re out.’ I just don’t think that’s feasible. We’re hoping that’s gone, but if not then at least it’ll be for next year.”

THE FEEDBACK

• Sterk has used the term “mobilize” with MU fans and boosters in response to the sanctions. This isn’t the way he wanted to gain their support, but he agreed there’s an opportunity for Mizzou to rally its base.

“Certainly in my short time and what others have told me there’s never been a time where the legislature, the system president, the chancellor, the base of support throughout the state are all together, all in,” he said. “The opportunity we have is to keep that going. It ties into our 1839 (fundraising) campaign where we’re encouraging people from across the state to be involved and support the program as small as $50 to whatever but also show support for our student-athletes who are in this. That sends a strong message to our student-athletes, to recruits, to our coaches, all those folks who are in the front lines there. That’s a great message to send.”

Ashley Moore, Sterk’s assistant AD in charge of the Tiger Scholarship Fund, said the response from donors has been nothing but positive the last two weeks.

“People have been really, really supportive,” Moore said. “They want to reach out and keep asking what they can do. We’ve seen a lot of new donors recently, a lot of people asking what fund they can give to.”

• SEC commissioner Greg Sankey issued an initial response in support of MU but continues to work “behind the scenes,” Sterk said.

“He’s been really positive behind the scenes and working not on a public platform but privately,” Sterk said. “Not to put words in his mouth but he was as shocked as we were with the decision.”

THE FUTURE

• Can Mizzou sue the NCAA if it doesn’t agree with the appeals committee ruling? Sterk got a chuckle out of that popular rallying cry from the fans.

“We appreciate their enthusiasm very much,” Humes said. “We need to channel that into tickets and TSF.”

No, but seriously? Can Mizzou sue?

“It’d be hard to come up with a specific cause of action over penalties,” he said. “It’s a voluntary association and the rules are set up within that association. That doesn’t mean the laws don’t apply. There are still ways (a lawsuit) could potentially happen, but I think it’s pretty unrealistic.”

• Jon SUndvold, chairman of the UM system board of curators, has floated the idea of the Power 5 conferences breaking away from the NCAA.

“It hasn’t been discussed in any of our national meetings or any side bars either yet,” Sterk said.

But does the infractions and enforcement process need fixed?

“I think there’s some points we’re going to make in our appeal, I can’t specifically say, but points we’re going to be making that lend itself to having some of their decisions overturned,” he said.

Dave Matter

@dave_matter on Twitter

dmatter@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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