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Missouri AD Jim Sterk after NCAA penalties: 'The current system is broken'

Missouri AD Jim Sterk said he was "angry" Tuesday after finding out his school's appeal of NCAA penalties had been denied on Monday. (AP)

Missouri officials didn’t hold back Tuesday after finding out that the school’s postseason ban in football, baseball and softball would be upheld by the NCAA.

The Tigers were initially hit with NCAA penalties in January after an investigation into coursework done by a tutor for 12 players in multiple sports in 2016. The school cooperated with the NCAA’s investigation process and appealed the decision on the grounds that it was overly harsh.

The NCAA held firm and announced Tuesday — three days before Missouri’s football team goes for a sixth win and bowl eligibility at Arkansas — that Mizzou’s appeal was denied and the postseason ban and other penalties would remain. 

“I think we did everything right,” Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “Where it fell apart was with the NCAA staff and the organization.”

Mizzou chancellor Alexander Cartwright said the case could have a “chilling effect on compliance” given the harsh penalties despite Missouri’s cooperation. Sterk went a step further about what can be done going forward about the NCAA’s current enforcement process given the outcome of the Missouri case.

“That’s a great question,” Sterk said. “I think that’s one for the membership as to where we want to go from here. I think that our athletic directors, our presidents and chancellors, our commissioners need to collectively decide where we want to go I think because the current system is broken.” 

‘There was no logic in today’s decision and result’

Missouri officials pointed to a similar ruling by the NCAA regarding Mississippi State as an example of the NCAA’s inconsistency. Mississippi State was punished in August by the NCAA — seven months after Missouri’s penalties were announced — after a tutor completed coursework in an online chemistry course for 10 football and men’s basketball players during the 2018-19 school year.

Like Missouri, Mississippi State touted its cooperation with NCAA enforcement. Neither the MSU football nor basketball team was banned from the postseason. Instead, players were suspended and the school ended up with probation and scholarship reductions that were lesser than the scholarship reductions Missouri received.

Sterk said there was “no logic” to the NCAA’s “hurtful” decision against the Tigers. He also said he wasn’t informed by the NCAA why the governing body took so long to rule on Missouri’s appeal. The school appealed its case to the NCAA in July.

“There was no information as why it took 19 weeks to basically stay the decision,” Sterk said. “You can only speculate. I haven’t heard anything from them.”

In the NCAA’s statement, the governing body said the appeals panel “looked primarily to Level I-Standard cases involving academic violations and found that this case involved more student-athletes and more sport programs than prior cases.”

Missouri’s case involved two more athletes in one more sport than Mississippi State’s did.

Sterk: North Carolina case ‘probably’ played role

The most infamous NCAA ruling of the past decade came in 2017 when the NCAA didn’t penalize North Carolina in a widespread academic fraud scandal. The NCAA said that since the general student body benefitted from sham courses in addition to athletes a the school and could “not establish that the university created and offered the courses as part of a systemic effort to benefit only student-athletes” that it couldn’t conclude the school violated NCAA rules.

Sterk openly wondered about the impact that ruling had on the one against Missouri.

“I think I had hoped with the Mississippi State case that they had circled back,” Sterk said. “People have asked about the North Carolina case. Did that have an impact. I think it probably did. I think we were the next case up after that and those folks on the committee on infractions, they had a strong opinion on what should have happened with the North Carolina case and then we were the next case up.”

The chief hearing officer on the NCAA panel in the North Carolina case was SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. He released a statement supporting Missouri Tuesday saying the SEC’s “disappointment related to the application of a postseason ban and the Infractions Appeals Committee’s upholding of the decision after more than four months of deliberations is magnified by recent decisions in other cases with similar fact patterns.”

The ‘chilling effect:’ More schools playing hardball with the NCAA?

While Missouri and Mississippi State cooperated with the NCAA, schools like Kansas have been defiant towards the governing body in recent months. Given Mizzou’s penalties despite its cooperation, it’s fair to wonder if a trend of defiance will begin. Especially given the success that North Carolina had.

After the NCAA served Kansas with a notice of allegations of multiple violations in October, Kansas coach Bill Self said those penalties were given in an “unnecessary aggressive manner.

When the NCAA ruled that Memphis center James Wiseman was ineligible earlier this fall because coach Penny Hardaway had given his family money for moving expenses, Wiseman filed a lawsuit to get a temporary restraining order to play. The suit was soon dropped and Wiseman was declared ineligible until Jan. 12.

The NCAA acted quickly in that Memphis case, something it definitely didn’t do for Missouri.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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