The Missouri athletic department’s investigation into allegations of academic fraud by Yolanda Kumar, a former tutor in the department’s academic services center, remains in its infancy.
First-year Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk didn’t shed much light beyond regarding the ongoing probe, which started after Kumar publicly alleged that she performed coursework for or provided impermissible assistance on tests for 15 current or former student-athletes.
Asked what kind of update he could provide, Sterk said, “Not much. Everyone’s involved — the SEC, the NCAA. We’re communicating with them, and we’re working with them.”
Mizzou is following the NCAA’s lead in the process.
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“We’re cooperating with the NCAA and gathering information,” Sterk said. “That’s something that’s not done on a regular (basis), but it’s something, when an accusation has been made, then you go about working with the NCAA to see what is there (and) what did you find. We’re in that process — discovery phase, I guess if you looked at it.”
It’s unclear how long the investigation might last.
Most recently, a joint investigation with the NCAA into a sham internship program, which led to other violations and self-imposed sanctions that included a postseason ban and scholarship reductions for the Tigers men’s basketball team, lasted from December 2013 through last August.
“I don’t know how long it will be,” Sterk said. “That will be dictated by the NCAA. I do know that they’ve been impressed with the work that our staff has done, so I think we’re in as good a place as we can be. But how long it will be, I don’t know. … We’re just working with their process.”
Pressed for more details about whether the investigation remains in a fact-finding phase or has progressed to something more, he demurred again.
“I really can’t comment on the process,” Sterk said.
Mizzou or the NCAA almost certainly will have to interview numerous student-athletes as part of the investigation.
“That could, but we’re not to that point yet,” Sterk said.
He’s also unsure of the scope of those interviews — whether the investigation will require interviewing all Mizzou student-athletes during a specified time period, only those who worked with Kumar or only those whose names surface during the investigation.
Asked who decides, Sterk said, “That will be the NCAA.”
Members of Tigers’ athletic department staff remain in contact with Kumar, who resigned from her position as a tutor on Nov. 7 after self-reporting the alleged fraud.
“There’s been communication back and forth,” Sterk said.
Kumar worked in various capacities at Mizzou beginning in 2004 as a graduate instructor in the statistics department.
She worked three stints as a tutor in the Tigers’ Total Person Program from Sept. 7, 2010, to Sept. 1, 2011; March 12, 2013 to Aug. 4, 2013; and June 2, 2014 until her resignation last month.
Sterk said Mizzou has a good handle on how many student-athletes Kumar worked with during her time as a tutor.
“They have good records,” Sterk said before declining to offer a ballpark figure for the number of student-athletes.
“I can’t really comment on that, but good questions,” he said with a quick laugh.
Sterk stuck up for the Total Person Program a bit, saying MU academic services were “really strong” and the department does a lot of education for staff who have contact with student-athletes.
“There an education process, there’s a vetting process, there’s background checks and those kinds of things for the tutors as well as staff members,” Sterk said. “That’s not unusual. That’s something I know we’ve done a really good job with.”