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NCAA bans Missouri from postseason after tutor investigation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NCAA banned Missouri’s football, baseball and softball programs from the postseason for a year and placed the entire athletic department on probation Thursday after a two-year investigation revealed academic misconduct involving a former tutor.

The penalties mean the Tigers’ highly regarded football team won’t be eligible for the SEC title game or a bowl game this fall, while their baseball and softball programs will not be allowed to participate in the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA also trimmed scholarships amid other punishments.

Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright said the school would appeal “this harsh and inconsistent decision,” a back-and-forth process that could take several months.

“We are shocked and dismayed by the penalties that have been imposed today and will aggressively fight for what is right,” athletic director Jim Sterk said. “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.”

The Division I Committee on Infractions said the former tutor, Yolanda Kumar, acknowledged in late 2016 she had “violated NCAA ethical conduct, academic misconduct and academic extra benefits rules when she completed academic work for 12 student-athletes.”

Kumar told the panel she felt pressured to ensure athletes passed certain courses, primarily in math. But according to the committee’s report, “the investigation did not support that her colleagues directed her to complete the student-athletes’ work.”

NCAA investigators said Kumar completed course work offered by Missouri, those offered by other schools and a math placement exam required of all students. In one instance, Kumar allegedly completed an entire course for a football player, whose name was not revealed.

The school began investigating after Kumar said on social media that she had committed academic fraud. Sterk sent a letter to Kumar that she also posted on social media in which he confirmed she had provided impermissible benefits and could no longer be associated with the athletic department.

“In this particular case, the institution, the tutor and enforcement all agreed this was a Level I case, which is severe misconduct,” said David Roberts, the chief hearing officer for the infractions panel and a special adviser to the president at Southern California. “The case starts off with that agreement and the association has put in place a penalty matrix.”

The NCAA acknowledged proactive steps by Missouri in investigating the academic fraud, but Sterk said that didn’t appear to soften the penalties.

Along with three years of probation and the postseason bans, the programs also must vacate any records for games that included participation by the 12 athletes. The programs will see a 5 percent cut in scholarships for the upcoming academic year and recruiting restrictions include a seven-week ban on unofficial visits, off-campus contacts and any communication with prospects.

The NCAA also fined the school $5,000 plus 1 percent of each program’s budget.

“We were surprised,” Sterk said. “We thought there might be a probation period and maybe vacating the wins, but some student-athletes — the current ones that were involved with the tutor — have sat out contests, so we took appropriate action at the time. We felt we were doing the right thing.”

Kumar, who did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press, already has been barred by the university from working for the athletic department. Kumar also received a 10-year show-cause order from the NCAA that bars her from working with athletes at any of its schools.

While the case is expected to draw comparisons to recent academic misconduct at North Carolina, the NCAA said it differed in that “UNC stood by the courses and grades it awarded student-athletes.”

“In support of that position,” the NCAA’s report said, “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.”

Roberts said the infractions committee has recommended legislative relief waivers for athletes affected by the ruling. That means those unable to participate in the postseason could transfer elsewhere without having to utilize a redshirt season.

Three years ago, the NCAA placed the Tigers on probation after finding the school failed to monitor its basketball program in a case involving internship opportunities provided by a booster. It also found a second booster provided impermissible benefits to 11 members of the same program totaling nearly $12,000.

Roberts said academic misconduct “strikes to the heart of the NCAA,” and that “we looked into the facts and we implemented the rule. From our point of view, this case should be over.”

Missouri officials made it clear that won’t be the case.

“I certainly don’t think these penalties are reflective of what we expected for self-reporting and that kind of cooperation, and through the appeals process we’ll have an opportunity to correct this action,” Sterk said. “I won’t go through our case today but we have folks working on that right now, and they will be putting a strong case together for that appeal.”

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