Missouri filed a 64-page brief Monday with the NCAA Appeals Committee, the next step in the process of MU appealing sanctions issued by the NCAA on Jan. 31.

Following a two-plus year investigation that ended in January, an NCAA Committee on Infractions panel found that a former Missouri tutor performed academic fraud on behalf of six Tiger athletes between summer 2016 and fall 2017. As a result, the NCAA issued Missouri a one-year postseason ban for football, baseball and softball; recruiting restrictions for all three programs; a 5 percent reduction in scholarships for all three sports for the 2019-20 academic year; a vacation of records in which ineligible athletes competed; and a fine of $5,000 plus 1 percent of the football, baseball and softball budgets.

“We believe that the penalties our programs received were a clear abuse of the committee's discretion based upon existing NCAA bylaws,” athletic director Jim Sterk said in a news release.

“Our staff and legal team have worked tirelessly to research and develop a well-written appeal that accurately reflects our position. We look forward to having the opportunity to meet face to face with the NCAA Appeals Committee later this year, and it is our sincere hope that at the end of this process, the penalties assessed are consistent with the nature of the violations and take into account our swift response.”

Missouri built its appeal case on three grounds, all pertaining to the severity of the penalties.

First, that “the penalties handed down were contrary to NCAA case precedent.”

Second, that “they were not supported, or appropriate, given the nature of the violations.”

Third, that the penalties “could have a chilling effect on future NCAA enforcement processes.”

The NCAA Committee on Infractions justified the sanctions based on the NCAA Penalty Matrix, a rubric for assigning penalties based on the level of infractions. According to the matrix, the penalties assigned are on the severe end of the range allowed for Level I violations. The NCAA Public Infractions Decision wrote on Jan. 31 that “Missouri acknowledged, and the panel agrees, those violations are Level I.”

The Public Infractions Decision went on to say that "the panel specifically notes Missouri's analysis that the case was a ‘low-end standard’ or ‘upper-end mitigated’ case. The panel agrees. Consistent with Missouri's original statements, the panel prescribes penalties at the low end of the ranges available for Level I-Standard cases.”

Missouri has since stated that it expected a probationary period and a vacation of records as penalties, but was surprised that the penalties extended to a postseason ban and recruiting restrictions.

Missouri’s third point likely stems from a statement made by David Roberts, the chief hearing officer for the panel that ruled on the case, on the day the sanctions were announced.

During a conference call Jan. 31, Roberts praised Missouri for self-reporting and cooperating with the investigation. (In the Public Infractions Decision, Missouri was commended for “exemplary cooperation” during the investigation.) A reporter then asked Roberts if the NCAA’s sanctions in this case might discourage schools from cooperating in future investigations.

“One can certainly make that argument,” Roberts responded. “The converse would be that hopefully more institutions would accept responsibility as Missouri did. It’s the old story. The penalty matrix is put in place by the association. I can understand when an institution receives penalties — no one likes to be penalized. Hopefully that wouldn’t deter future behavior and, again, I don’t want to speculate, but if an institution fails to report and conceals and doesn’t tell the truth or did something to otherwise inhibit the process, then under the aggravating and mitigating factors, the penalties would be more severe than in this case.”

Missouri has aggressively and publicly fought the sanctions. It has launched a campaign with the slogan “Make It Right” in an effort to bolster public support for its appeal, with the slogan even making an appearance on the Missouri baseball team’s helmets.

“A message is sent to the membership every time the NCAA Committee on Infractions adjudicates cases,” Sterk said in the release. “In this instance, the message is loud and clear that neither proactive self-reporting nor exemplary cooperation is of any value to the committee. I am shocked this is the message the NCAA wants to send to its membership in today's climate.”

The NCAA has 30 days to respond to Missouri’s appeal. Following that, an in-person hearing will be scheduled for Missouri to appear before the NCAA Appeals Committee.

djones@columbiatribune.com

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