University of Missouri

Mississippi State’s academic fraud punishment lacks the bowl ban Mizzou got. Here’s why

Missouri AD Jim Sterk on Tigers’ response to NCAA ruling

Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk talks about the department’s response to the NCAA ruling.
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Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk talks about the department’s response to the NCAA ruling.

Missouri’s fans and administrators went into the weekend with their eyebrows raised after the NCAA ruled on Mississippi State’s academic fraud case, which was similar to MU’s but differed in punishments.

The biggest contrast? Mississippi State’s football team did not receive a postseason ban despite a tutor completing coursework for 10 football players and a men’s basketball player in exchange for cash payments. Just like Missouri, Mississippi State committed Level I violations, but also received marks for its cooperation throughout the investigation.

In January, Missouri’s football, baseball and softball teams received a one-year postseason ban for a case that involved 12 student-athletes but only seven who participated while ineligible. In addition, MU was placed on probation and given severe recruiting restrictions for all three sports. Mississippi State received three years probation, a reduction in scholarships and official visits for both programs and a restriction on unofficial visits among other penalties.

So why did Mississippi State avoid a postseason ban? The Bulldogs benefited from a rule that passed in August 2018, when Missouri was already going through the investigation process with the NCAA. The rule, which allowed Mississippi State to reach a “negotiated resolution” with the NCAA — essentially a plea deal, allowed both sides to move through the process without a formal hearing or summary disposition.

Missouri has a summary disposition, in which it presented vacated wins and probation as acceptable penalties, which the Committee of Infractions rejected, resulting in MU’s current penalties. Missouri presented its appeal to the NCAA’s ruling in July and can receive word on it any day.

In addition to the way the investigations were processed, Mississippi State also benefited from having a different kind of Level I violation than MU. Missouri’s actions were classified as Level I-Standard, while MSU’s were Level I-Mitigated. Standard violations call for harsher penalties than mitigated ones, according to the NCAA’s punishment matrix. Mississippi State was credited for two mitigating factors in its investigation, which were “prompt self-detection and self-disclosure of the violations” and “implementation of a system of compliance methods designed to ensure rules compliance.”

Missouri asked for “prompt self-detection and self-disclosure” in its summary disposition, but the infractions committee didn’t grant it. While MU quickly self-reported the violations, it didn’t detect them, as the tutor involved in the scandal, Yolanda Kumar, announced on her Facebook page that she was committing academic fraud. Unlike Kumar, MSU’s tutor did not cooperate with NCAA investigators.

“In response to many questions we have received in regard to today’s NCAA infractions case decision involving another Division I institution, it is important to note that the University of Missouri did not have the opportunity to utilize the NCAA’s new negotiated resolution process because our case was already in process when the organization’s membership adopted it,” Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk said in a release issued Friday afternoon.

“We believe that the penalties imposed in the recently decided and factually similar case further illustrate that the penalties imposed on Mizzou were excessive and inconsistent with previous case precedent. We have never wavered from our stance or the merits of our appeal and remain hopeful it will be successful.

“Thanks to the incredible work of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, Mizzou is poised to have a breakout year across many sports, and we look forward to resolving this in the future so we can move forward as a University and continue to Win it Right.”

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.