Rubin Carter, Florida A&M University’s football head coach, sat somewhat restlessly alongside the men’s head basketball coach Mike Gillespie in Galimore-Powell Fieldhouse to hear the final decision from the NCAA on more than 200 violations in all university sports from 1998-2004, at a Wednesday press conference.
The NCAA’s Division 1 Committee on Infractions has placed the athletic department on four years probation ending January 31, 2010, among a myriad of other penalties. The ten-member committee cited a “lack of institutional control” in addition to the violations as grounds for the ruling.
The committee also found that there was “insufficient evidence” to support an allegation against former head football coach Billy Joe, who was removed from his position in June. Joe has filed suit against the university. At the time of his dismissal, the winningest coach in school history had two years left on his contract at an annual base salary of $135,000.
As part of the punishment, there will be a reduction in grants and aid to all FAMU sports, announced newly appointed Athletic Director Nelson Townsend.
Baseball grants will be reduced by three, beginning this season. Grants in men’s and women’s swimming and women’s track will lose two. Grants in men’s and women’s basketball, men’s track and field, bowling, softball and volleyball will each lose one grant beginning this year. Women’s track will lose an additional grant in 2006-2007.
Football was hit the hardest, losing 14 grants in all. Six of those grants have already been taken away. The remaining eight will be subtracted over the next three years, ending at the conclusion of the 2008-2009 season.
Practice time for the football team will also be reduced by 20 hours as a result of the penalties.
The violations surfaced following an earlier investigation after which the university hastily enacted a harsh self-imposed penalty, cutting numerous scholarships and prohibiting post-season play.
In the aftermath of this discovery, the MEAC stripped FAMU of eleven conference titles.
But the setbacks, made official Wednesday, sounded like sweet music to the ears of coaches and athletic department officials in attendance.
Most expected things to have turned out a lot worse.
Townsend credited Interim President Castell V. Bryant for working in conjunction with NCAA officials for reducing the self-imposed penalty to “what we would consider realistic to the crime that had been committed.”
“Even though the penalties are serious they by no means rank in accordance with the self-imposed penalties that you heard in the past,” said Townsend.
“And the dreaded results many of us hesitantly looked forward to did not become a reality.”
A feeling of relief resonated throughout the cramped room.
“This really helped our program move forward,” said Carter of the new ruling.
“The loss of 28 scholarships would have been athletic suicide. We never would have been able to survive that. Football would have been dead.”
You could hear the men’s basketball team celebrating down the hallway that runs from Gaither Gymnasium to the Rattlers locker room. Coach Gillespie’s Rattlers, who are 6-3 in the MEAC with nine conference games remaining, are now eligible to compete in MEAC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament if they win the conference.
“I’m ecstatic,” Gillespie said. “I had always contended that there were no really true violations against men’s basketball. I feel like it’s been justified. I never felt like we did anything wrong to begin with and now we have the chance to play in the tournament.”
One area that has been affected by the previous penalties is recruiting. On Wednesday, national signing day for college football, the Rattlers inked 21 prep prospects for next year’s squad.
The men’s basketball team has managed to sign three junior college transfers, but has not been able to go out and actively recruit any high school players.
The violations were a result of what the NCAA described as an understaffed and inadequately funded compliance department under former compliance director Jonathan Evans.
The entire compliance department has been revamped since. Evans has been replaced with Marilyn Jones, a former official in the University of South Carolina’s athletic department.
The department’s staff includes a compliance coordinator and four athletic advisors.
Townsend also said the University will be holding compliance training sessions for the entire athletic department.
The changes “are going to make all the difference in the world,” Bryant said.
“We’re not going to have this problem again. We’re moving forward.”
Contact Nick Birdsong at firstname.lastname@example.org