Four days before Frank Haith abruptly left Missouri to become the head coach at Tulsa in 2014, the Tigers’ men’s basketball program received another troubling message.
The NCAA enforcement staff, acting on a December 2013 tip about an MU basketball player, issued a verbal notice of inquiry to the school on April 14, 2014. That triggered a nearly two-year joint review with the NCAA that uncovered several major rules violations, the details of which were announced Wednesday by Missouri, as well as a series of self-imposed sanctions including a one-year postseason ban, effective immediately.
“Candidly, obviously, a tough day — and a tough day for a lot of people, because this program means a lot to certainly myself, to Coach Anderson, to our student-athletes, to all of our fans, our staff,” Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades said during a news conference. “Again, a tough day.”
The investigation found two donors, one who since has been barred from associating with the program, and a former associate head coach committed infractions. The violations do not involve Haith, or current Missouri coach Kim Anderson or his staff. Anderson said Wednesday that he was unaware of the notice of inquiry when he interviewed for the job at his alma mater in April 2014.
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Among the self-imposed sanctions, Missouri will vacate its 23 victories from the 2013-14 season, Haith’s last in Columbia. The Tigers also will not play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which begins March 9 in Nashville, nor will the university receive any revenue from the SEC or NCAA tournaments this season. Additionally, Missouri imposed a one scholarship reduction this season and will lose an additional scholarship either next season or in 2017-18.
“I’m disappointed that the action of a few individuals have put our program in this type of situation,” Anderson said.
Anderson replaced Haith, who became the head coach at Tulsa on April 18, 2014, signing a six-year contract worth $1.3 million annually and ending his three-year tenure with the Tigers. He offered a similar message in a release: “I appreciate the thoroughness of the NCAA during this process. I echo the sentiments of Missouri’s Kim Anderson in expressing disappointment that the actions of a few individuals have put the Tiger basketball program in this situation.”
Haith’s attorney, Scott Tompsett of Kansas City, said his client didn’t learn of the NCAA investigation at Mizzou until after he started coaching at Tulsa.
“The University of Tulsa and Coach Haith were both told in about February 2015 that the NCAA enforcement staff was conducting an investigation into potential violations at Missouri and that they wanted to talk to him,” Tompsett told The Star. “That’s when we learned about the NCAA investigation. … We were told last fall that (NCAA enforcement staff) were concluding their investigation and Coach Haith would not be charged.”
The NCAA investigation remains open, which Rhoades said limited what he could say and prompted him not to field questions, but Missouri athletic officials are working with the NCAA in hopes of limiting the punishment to its self-imposed sanctions.
A final report from the NCAA is expected in the spring, but Rhoades warned the investigation could take longer.
“We have faced this issue head on and worked collaboratively with the NCAA on certainly the facts and the violations,” said Rhoades, who was aware of the investigation but not privy to the details as he interviewed for the MU athletic director job last winter. “As such, the NCAA credited us with exemplary cooperation. That’s not a distinction that’s regularly afforded to institutions in major-infractions cases.”
The infractions occurred as far back as 2011, when Haith arrived.
Tulsa athletic director Derrick Gragg defended Haith in a statement released Wednesday afternoon: “Today, I read the details of the NCAA investigation of the men’s basketball program at the University of Missouri, and Golden Hurricane head men’s basketball coach Frank Haith was not named in any of the reports. Coach Haith has cooperated fully with the NCAA during this process and has not been accused of any wrongdoing during his tenure at Missouri.”
Tompsett released a similar statement, which concluded that, “The fact that the (NCAA) enforcement staff has not charged Coach Haith with any violations validates our position. Coach Haith wishes the best to the University of Missouri, its men’s basketball program and his former student-athletes in getting through this difficult time.”
According to Missouri’s news release outlying the findings of its 19-month review with the NCAA, actions by two donors led to major violations. The first donor provided impermissible benefits to three players and one recruit in 2013-14.
The benefits “included compensating student-athletes for work-not-performed at a business through a summer internship program.” Through the internship, the donor also provided housing, $520 cash, local transportation, iPads, meals and gym access. These violations were classified as Level I, the most serious.
The second donor, according to the release, provided impermissible benefits to 11 players and three members of one player’s family from 2011-14. Those benefits, a Level II violation, included reduced hotel rates, meals and a recreational boat ride. Another Level II violation went to the MU athletic department for “failure to monitor” because it did not fully vet the internship or adequately monitor the internship program.
There were two Level III violations, which are secondary. A former associate head coach helped a recruit move by giving his mother’s phone number to the second donor to arrange rental housing. Although the family was found to have paid market rate for the rental, the coach’s actions violated NCAA rules. The first donor also was found to have made “multiple impermissible recruiting contacts” with a recruit and paid for a meal for a non-scholastic coach.
They were not named in the report, but Tim Fuller was Mizzou’s associate head coach when Jakeenan Gant moved from Springfield, Ga., to Lake Ozark, Mo., before joining the Tigers in 2014. Gant was suspended for the first nine games of the 2014-15 season amid an NCAA investigation into his eligibility.
Asked in January 2015 about the prospect of further NCAA sanctions against Missouri or its staff following Gant’s suspension, former athletic director Mike Alden said, “I think we’re in good shape going forward.”
Instead, Mizzou “permanently disassociated” itself with the first donor, according to the release, prohibiting that donor from receiving tickets, making donations or representing the university. The second donor was banned from representing Mizzou for two years. The former coach was banned from off-campus recruiting for three months during the review.
Anderson declined to comment Wednesday whether the NCAA investigation was related to Fuller’s dismissal as associate head coach in March 2015. Attempts to reach Fuller were unsuccessful. Alden declined to comment.
The players who received impermissible benefits had to pay restitution and Missouri paid a $5,000 fine. MU also placed restrictions on men’s basketball recruiting in 2014-15 that will continue through 2016-17.
“I’m not going to lie to you, for the sake of everyone involved, I’m glad a resolution is nearing …” Anderson said. “I agreed with Mack Rhoades on this decision to self-impose, but I don’t necessarily like it just because of the impact it has on our current student-athletes.”
Missouri met with outside counsel and campus leaders in addition to consulting NCAA case precedent and its new penalty structure in meting out the self-imposed sanctions.
“We really felt like that was the right thing to do, first and foremost, and it will help put us in a position to move this program forward,” Rhoades said.
Anderson said he spoke with the parents of the three players who signed with Missouri in November — forward Willie Jackson from Cleveland, forward Reed Nikko from Maple Grove, Minn., and center Mitchell Smith from Van Buren, Ark. — to assure them there would be no postseason ban next season.
Rhoades, Anderson and other athletic department staff, including members of MU’s compliance department, met with the Tigers’ players before holding a news conference. Anderson, who opted not to hold practice Wednesday, had another meeting with Missouri’s players and also met with the players in smaller groups “just to kind of discuss and see if they had any questions,” he said. “I know they’re disappointed.”
No one is more disappointed than the Tigers’ lone senior, forward Ryan Rosburg, whose college career will end March 5 against Florida at Mizzou Arena.
“I was very upset,” Rosburg said. “A lot’s happened in my last four years. If I was a better writer, I’d probably write a book. … Obviously, not playing in the SEC Tournament is tough, a hard pill to swallow. I know I had a lot of family that was making reservations and flights to come see my last couple games. That hurts, but we’ve just got to make the most of what we’re given. We still have 15 games left and a lot of chances to win and improve.”