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12 things to know about the 29-page NCAA report that led to Mizzou’s bowl ban

The NCAA says a tutor did a bunch of work for a dozen Missouri athletes. The punishments are steep for the tutor and her former employer.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA dropped a hammer on Mizzou’s athletic department Thursday, announcing a series of sanctions that most prominently include a 2019 bowl ban for the football team. The school will appeal, but for now, it’s in boiling water.

The punishments stem from compliance violations by a tutor who was a bit too helpful to the athletes she taught, sometimes taking exams and, in at least one case, “an entire course” for a player she was supposed to be helping. The Tigers’ baseball and softball teams also got postseason bans, but it’s the football ban that will get the most publicity.

The NCAA’s investigation stretched from January 2017 to February 2018, when it formally accused Mizzou of academic fraud. The NCAA’s public presentation on Mizzou is here.

I’ve read the organization’s 29-page report. Here’s a collection of key things to know and some of the biggest eyebrow-raisers.

1. The tutor did work for at least 12 Mizzou players across at least five sports, according to the NCAA, but the biggest issues were with the three punished sports.

The cheating came across three types of classes, per the NCAA: ones at Mizzou, ones at other schools that Mizzou players were taking to load up credits, and a math placement exam at Mizzou. The players who benefitted from the tutor’s help were split between football, baseball, softball, women’s soccer, and men’s basketball.

But there was only one women’s soccer player involved that the NCAA mentions, and that player didn’t keep playing after the tutor did their work. A men’s basketball player is only mentioned as table-setter. The NCAA describes the tutor feeling pressured to help the player pass, because of an interaction with an academic coordinator, and thus doing a player’s work for the first time. From there, the NCAA says it became more routine.

The tutor left Mizzou in November 2016, the same month she self-reported NCAA violations to the school.

2. Four players, including two football players, allegedly got the tutor’s help to cheat an algebra class at a non-NCAA school. One of those players had an entire online algebra class done for him, the NCAA says.

This help spanned a wide range of services, as the NCAA tells it:

Her assistance ranged from obtaining student-athletes’ usernames and passwords and completing their coursework independently to writing out or personally completing work in the presence of student- athletes during their scheduled tutoring sessions. She also responded to screenshots of exam and homework questions with solutions to those problems, in a similar fashion to how she assisted the softball student-athlete described earlier.

This was where the tutor did a whole class for a football player, per the NCAA, after he failed the course in 2015. “The student-athlete acknowledged that he allowed the tutor to complete the entire course the second time because it relieved some of his burden during his final season,” the NCAA says, again tying cheating to continued eligibility.

3. The NCAA says the tutor did a whole Mizzou class’ worth of homework for one player.

One of the courses where the NCAA says cheating happened was an applied statistics class. This was an online class with 12 homework assignments, which students could complete at their own pace, along with three exams. The Committee on Infractions says:

From summer 2015 through spring 2016, she also provided four other student-athletes with completed assignments. She provided one student-athlete with all 12 completed assignments and the other student-athletes with four to nine assignments each. Two of those student-athletes took the class remotely. Generally, the student-athletes submitted the assignments as their own, though on a few occasions, the tutor submitted some of the assignments for one of the student-athletes.

Not just production of homework assignments, but sometimes delivery, too. Talk about an unparalleled commitment to service.

Three of the five players the tutor helped cheat in that class had already finished their playing careers at Mizzou, according to the NCAA. The two who hadn’t were a football player and a baseball player who the NCAA says subsequently kept playing.

4. The tutor didn’t always make much of an effort to help players solve problems, but instead just went right to doing them, per the NCAA.

The NCAA describes the tutor getting text screenshots of Statistics 1200 problems from one softball player, then solving them and texting the answers back.

5. The NCAA says the tutor helped two other football players cheat an online algebra course at Division II Adams State.

Investigators say the tutor got the players’ logins and did “portions” of the coursework for them, including “self-administered and unproctored” tests.

6. “Hi! I was wondering if you had finished the other homework assignments?!”

That’s a text message the NCAA says one of those football players sent the tutor. The two players “denied that the tutor completed any work on their behalf,” the NCAA says, but it’s clear the NCAA didn’t believe either of them:

Based on the corroborative information, it is more likely that the tutor completed all of the homework for one student-athlete and two-thirds of the homework for the other, as well as [two] unproctored exams for each.

7. Two football players got cheating help on a math placement exam that spared them from having to take a remedial class, the NCAA says.

You remember those tests, right? I took one my freshman year of college. At Mizzou, they’re supposed to be taken alone, but the NCAA says the tutor stayed in the room and helped the two players pass. One case was in December 2015, the other in April 2016.

8. The NCAA tries to explain why this case is different than the one at North Carolina, which didn’t result in the Heels getting punished despite offering sham classes for years. It explains poorly.

What UNC did was its own form of academic fraud, but the Heels weren’t punished. A major part of the NCAA’s explanation was that not only athletes benefitted from those courses, so they weren’t getting the type of special benefit that would constitute an NCAA violation. But at Mizzou, the tutor’s help appears to have been limited to athletes. She was an athletics employee, and the NCAA mentions no efforts by her to help other students cheat.

Had the NCAA made that point, it would’ve made some sense. But that’s not what the NCAA mentions as the difference. Here’s what the NCAA does say:

Among other differences, UNC stood by the courses and the grades it awarded student-athletes. In support of that position, UNC asserted that although courses were created and graded by an office secretary, student-athletes completed their own work. Here, by contrast, Missouri acknowledged that the tutor completed student-athletes’ work and, in most instances, this conduct violated its honor code.

Translation: UNC had joke classes, but players did the work themselves. Mizzou had real classes, but players didn’t do the work themselves.

There was no need for the NCAA to twist itself into a pretzel here, unless it just didn’t want to draw attention to how much it hates when athletes get benefits regular students don’t get for their school activities. The biggest of those, of course, is money.

9. The NCAA lauds Mizzou for its “exemplary cooperation” with investigators, but still punishes the school severely.

The NCAA cites some mitigating factors in determining Mizzou’s punishment: “prompt acknowledgement of the violation, acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures and/or penalties” is one. Others are efforts to resolve the situation quickly and an established history of self-reporting smaller violations.

Who knows how severe Mizzou’s punishment would’ve been without those points of praise, but it still feels like this decision could discourage others from talking to the NCAA.

10. It seems like Mizzou’s recent men’s basketball NCAA violations led to a tougher punishment in this case.

In 2016, the NCAA found a handful of impermissible-benefit violations and also said Mizzou “failed to monitor” its program for potential violations. It hit the school with a year of probation and a one-year postseason ban in men’s basketball.

“The panel makes specific note that Missouri now has had two Level I cases in less than three years,” the NCAA’s infractions committee writes. That panel decided not to consider this a “mitigated” Level I violation, which would’ve been better for Mizzou.

11. The tutor arguably got the stiffest punishment of all.

A 10-year show-cause penalty, meaning any NCAA school that hires her in the next decade has to keep her out of athletics. In practice, it’s easy to see the case keeping her from getting a job at all kinds of schools, both colleges and not.

12. Mizzou got hit with a handful of other sanctions that won’t get talked about as much but will still be frustrating.

  • Three years of probation, through January 2022. That’s department-wide, and it means if Mizzou has a whiff of another serious NCAA issue, the punishment could be worse.
  • A $5,000 fine, plus 1 percent of the school’s football, baseball, and softball budgets. The football budget fine won’t be a number to sneeze at.
  • A 5 percent scholarship cut across football, baseball, and softball in 2019-20 (which has to be spread across the sports based on recent scholarship allotment levels)
  • Several recruiting penalties for 2019-20, including seven-week bans on unofficial visits, “recruiting communications,” and “recruiting contacts and evaluations” in football, baseball, and softball. Those teams are also getting a 12.5 percent cut in both official visits and in-person evaluation days. Added up, it’s a big suite of recruiting penalties.
  • Vacated won/lost records, though it’s not clear how all those will work out. Mizzou’s going to lose at least a few football wins, in all likelihood. Vacating wins is pretty silly, I think.

Plus, every senior on these teams is likely to be allowed a free transfer, thanks to NCAA rule that can provide that when a team’s bowl-banned for the rest of a player’s career. It’s not yet clear how many Mizzou players are actually going to roll out.