A day before the start of their season, at least 10 Morgan State football players were ruled academically ineligible Friday after an NCAA review revealed shortcomings in mandated academic requirements.
As part of a routine audit by the NCAA of Division I institutions' academic-eligibility process, "a sampling" of Morgan State student-athletes from 2010 to 2014 did not meet certain academic benchmarks and therefore were not certified to play this season, the university announced. Bears athletic director Floyd Kerr declined to specify the number of ineligible student-athletes or the teams affected.
At least 10 of the ineligible student-athletes, according to a source, were on the Bears football team, which opens the season at Air Force on Saturday. At least one player, running back Herb Walker Jr., was a starter, according to a source.
Kerr said Morgan State is working with the NCAA to restore eligibility for the student-athletes.
The timetable for a decision is uncertain, because only the NCAA can determine eligibility.
Kerr also said the university plans to hire more academic support and compliance staff members to help prevent future problems.
The loss of Walker is significant to a team that had high hopes of recapturing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship it shared last fall. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound junior rushed for a school-record 1,408 yards and 15 touchdowns (13 rushing) last season and is one of six nonseniors nominated to the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year watch list.
Redshirt sophomore Orlando Johnson is poised to make his first career start at tailback. Redshirt junior Lamont Brown III, the team's leading rusher in 2013 and the starter in 2014 before tearing the ACL in his right knee in the season opener, will back up Johnson.
The announcement comes 20 years after the NCAA placed Morgan State on three years' probation, banned the Bears from postseason play in 10 of 14 sports for the following season, and reduced the number of scholarships available in those 10 sports for two years for self-reported rules violations.
Kerr said the university created a recertification task force in June to review and revise the school's procedures. Kerr said new rules have been implemented and that the NCAA approved the changes.
Kerr acknowledged that the system previously in place to ensure athletes' certification did not work.
"It could be a number of things" that were deficient, he said during a phone interview from Colorado Springs, Colo. "Yes, we found some things that we do that we needed to correct, and we've done that. That's why we got a favorable report from the NCAA, but they did say, 'Here are some findings we need you to look at.' We're looking at them, and we're working with them to make sure that we move forward and remain in good standing."
Kerr said the NCAA review, which occurs every 10 years, helped Morgan State rectify its problems.
"It puts us in a better working situation to make sure that our student-athletes are served properly," he said. "As I said earlier, we've ensured that we will not be putting any ineligible players out there, and we're working with those to make sure that the process and our work with the NCAA is there. Our review has helped us get to that point. From a service standpoint, yes, we're going to hire more people to help us do the job as we move forward and work through our policies and procedures in closer alignment with the NCAA as we continue to move forward.
"The impact on the program — all programs go through this. It's an opportunity for us to find out that we have some areas that we need to do better at, and that's what the process is there for: to help us get better with what we're doing. Personally, I think the timing is good because we've got a good program that's on the upswing, and to have an opportunity to learn more about yourself and get better at it, it's very, very important to the growth of your program."
The NCAA did not respond to a request Friday night for comment on the matter.
Bears football coach Lee Hull referred all inquiries to Kerr, who disputed the notion that the loss of ineligible players hurt the team's chances of repeating as MEAC champion.
"I think that remains to be seen," he said. "We haven't played a game."