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NCAA panel penalizes Morgan State for improper student-athlete eligibility, financial aid

Morgan State improperly certified the eligibility of 94 student-athletes in 10 sports and erroneously provided financial aid to student-athletes in nine sports for four years, according to findings by an NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions panel.
Morgan State improperly certified the eligibility of 94 student-athletes in 10 sports and erroneously provided financial aid to student-athletes in nine sports for four years, according to findings by an NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions panel.

Morgan State improperly certified the eligibility of 94 student-athletes in 10 sports and erroneously provided financial aid to student-athletes in nine sports for four years, according to findings by an NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions panel.

The panel, an independent administrative body of the NCAA made of individuals from the Division I membership and public, said in a statement released Tuesday that ineligible student-athletes were able to compete and receive tens of thousands of dollars in financial aid and expenses.

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Penalties imposed by the panel Tuesday for the violations include: four years of probation through Dec. 18, 2021; a one-year postseason ban for softball, tennis and football; a $5,000 financial penalty, plus 1 percent of the 2017-18 budgets of football, softball and women’s tennis programs; scholarship reductions of 5 percent for the 2018-19 academic year in the 10 sports where violations occurred; and recruiting restrictions in the 10 sports, including a seven-week ban on unofficial visits and off-campus recruiting, official visit reductions and communications restrictions.

The Bears went 1-10 this season, finishing last in the MEAC.

“Morgan State lacked institutional control due its failure to manage the eligibility certification and financial aid processes,” NCAA director of public and media relations Stacey Osborn wrote in Tuesday’s statement. “Due to the university’s lack of monitoring and control, student-athletes practiced and competed while ineligible. This included those who had not yet received their eligibility certification or met the eligibility standards. Other student-athletes competed while enrolled less than full time, without meeting their progress-toward-degree requirements or after their eligibility was exhausted.”

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The NCAA said the case was resolved through the summary disposition process, a cooperative effort in which the involved parties collectively submit the case to the Committee on Infractions in written form instead of a formal in-person hearing.

According to statement released Tuesday by the university announcing the panel’s findings, during a routine Academic Performance Plan data review of the school, the NCAA Academic and Membership Affairs staffers alerted Morgan State’s athletics department of the discovery of multiple progress-toward-degree violations. The review began in 2015, was completed in 2016, and was followed by an investigation and hearing process.

It was determined that during the 2012–13 to 2015–16 academic years, 94 student-athletes competed and received expenses while ineligible or not properly certified. In addition, the university failed to withhold these student-athletes from competition before the reinstatement of their eligibility. The violations pertained to the football, men's basketball and women's basketball teams, as well as the men's and women's track and bowling teams.

At the time, the university said its athletics department faced “systemic deficiencies in the areas of reporting structure and senior staff knowledge related to NCAA academic support and compliance. The department also suffered from instability caused by high staff turnover, the absence of a formal rules education process, and a lack of sufficient academic support staff. There was a single academic coordinator with oversight of 300 student-athletes.”

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Since learning of the violations, Morgan State said it has taken corrective action to strengthen its program for student-athletes, citing the football team regaining its postseason eligibility in May by posting a satisfactory multiyear Academic Progress Rate. The university also received a nearly $890,000 Accelerating Academic Success Program Comprehensive Grant award from the NCAA.

“The infractions listed do not reflect the way in which Morgan generally conducts its affairs nor do they represent the University's tradition of excellence in the classroom and on the playing field,” the school announced in its statement Tuesday. “Morgan is dedicated to the success of all student-athletes and our commitment to providing the appropriate resources to ensure compliance with all NCAA rules and regulations is unwavering.”

The university also self-imposed significant penalties, including relinquishing one men's basketball scholarship (2017–18) and two women's basketball scholarships (2016–17 and 2017–18); imposing an off-campus recruiting ban for the fall 2017 semester on men's basketball, women's basketball, softball, men's and women's tennis, bowling and men's and women's track; reducing official visits for men's and women's basketball to 15 and football to 30 for two years (2017–18 and 2018–19); imposing a three-year probation period; and a fine of $5,000.

In the lead-up to Tuesday’s announcement from the NCAA, the school said athletic director Ed Scott and president David Wilson appealed the judgment of the Infractions Panel. The university was granted an expedited hearing in November in Indianapolis, and the university presented a case to challenge the NCAA's verdict to seek relief from penalties deemed as excessive, unwarranted or unfair.

The panel lessened several penalties, including reducing the number of affected sports banned from postseason play from 10 to three (football, women's tennis and softball), decreasing the number of probation years from five to only four, and confining a 1 percent financial penalty to only the three sports penalized.

“Despite the infractions and resulting penalties imposed, Morgan remains committed to its responsibility to students, faculty, alumni, supporters and also the NCAA, to operate its athletic programs in a manner that is consistent with the highest principles of intercollegiate athletics and in adherence to our institutional values,” the school said Tuesday. “This commitment includes the obligation to be forthcoming and thoroughly transparent in our response, regardless of consequences, whenever the University learns of any possible transgressions in conduct that run contrary to those principles.

“Our pledge is to quality education, integrity, honesty and fairness in all University endeavors, which requires that we adhere to a higher standard. We are troubled by the notion that past mistakes will negatively impact the University and our students. And, as we move forward, we will use this experience as a learning opportunity, one that builds upon and does not stain an otherwise rich and impressive academic and athletic history.”

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