Saturday marks the beginning of the 2004 football season, and it also brings to close another tumultuous summer for the Florida A&M University athletic department.
On May 1, the day after the spring semester ended, FAMU’s athletic department reported 196 rules violations to the NCAA, primarily related to illegal participation involving student athletes.
Most of the athletes involved are football players, something Head Football Coach Billy Joe attributes to the football team having the most number of players.
“This has been an ongoing investigation since 2002,” said FAMU Athletic Director Joseph Ramsey II. “The NCAA visited the campus in 2002 after complaints from former student athletes.”
The complaints revolved around disputes in the dispersing of financial aid checks to athletes from the administration of former Athletic Director Ken Riley. After investigating the complaints, Jonathan Evans, assistant athletic director of NCAA Compliance and an independent compliance auditor, found the rules infractions and brought it to the attention of the NCAA.
Although the University reported 196 violations, 96 of those infractions revolve around improper documentation of the academic progress of student athletes. Even with such a vast amount of violations, none of them will render a student athlete ineligible for an entire season.
“We interpreted the rule that if a student made a ‘D’ in a core course, that ‘D’ would count towards their 24 hours but not (their) 25 percent,” said Evans.
The NCAA’s academic progression rule requires student athletes to have a 2.0 grade point average, have earned 24 credit hours and have progressed 25 percent towards their degree in order to be eligible every year.
The academic progression rule also states that a student athlete cannot receive a “D” in a core curriculum course and consider it towards their academic progression.
“We are taking progressive steps to not follow (the infractions) again,” said FAMU President Fred Gainous. “We now have a correct interpretation (of the rules) and all students in the 2004-2005 academic year have been certified.”
Gainous said that the confusion of which courses were core courses for student athletes could be attributed to athletes changing majors – a tendency he feels is not reserved for athletes.
While a majority of the blame in the situation has fallen on the shoulders of Evans, Gainous said the University will hire another compliance officer to alleviate Evans’ responsibility. The president is also asking coaches to share some of the responsibility of their athletes’ academic progression.
Even before the president asked coaches to take a deeper responsibility for their players, Joe and his staff implemented new ways to keep them abreast of his team’s academic progression.
“Every year we try to come up with additional ideas and innovations that we think will impact our players’ grade point average and graduation.”
Since he has become the full-time compliance director at FAMU in 1998, Evans said he has not had a compliance officer to help him. He has had student and graduate assistants, but not a full-time compliance officer.
“We’ve always asked for some help, you had budgetary issues for a while,” said Evans. “There wasn’t enough money available.”
Although he has had assistants in the past, Evans said that being a one-man show was challenging at first, but has now become old.
Originally, Ramsey hoped to have a second compliance officer hired by the beginning of August, but that decision has been delayed so more applicants can apply. Ramsey and a search committee, one in which Evans is on, expect to hire a compliance officer by the end of September, after whittling down the 15 applicants for the job.
“We are looking for the most qualified applicants you can get,” Ramsey said. “The person has to have had NCAA compliance experience. We prefer Division I experience.”
Evans reiterated Ramsey’s comments, but added that he would like to have his assistant hit the ground running in order to divvy up the large amounts of work and save him the time of training that person.
Even though the rules infractions were inadvertent and self-reported, Ramsey said he has not received any indication as to what the NCAA’s punishment will be.
“Those decisions don’t fall on one member institution, it has a domino effect on other member institutions.”
“There will always be challenges and issues involving the University,” Gainous said. “There is not any university that does not have issues. The challenge is to resolve those issues.”
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