KANSAS CITY — University of Missouri Chancellor Alexander Cartwright called it confusing. MU Director of Athletics Jim Sterk also couldn’t understand the differences.
Missouri’s leadership looked at its own violations and the ones reported by Mississippi State and pondered how the punishments could differ so heavily.
After Cartwright and Sterk finished their opening remarks at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Sprint Center discussing the NCAA’s decision to uphold all sanctions against the MU athletic department, a Tigers staff member passed out a comparison sheet.
That piece of paper presented how similarly the Southeastern Conference schools violated NCAA rules, but how the sanctions handed down were irrefutably different.
Both schools’ fraud cases involved one tutor and an almost equal amount of student-athletes (11 for Mississippi State, 12 for Missouri) and sports involved (two for the Bulldogs, three for the Tigers).
Each school was given three years’ probation, the same sanctions against the guilty tutor and identical financial penalties per the number of sports where athletes completed fraudulent coursework.
That’s where the similarities end and the guillotine came down on Missouri.
Mississippi State did not receive a postseason ban for either sport involved in its academic fraud case, won’t lose any conference revenue from postseason games and has no recruiting restrictions when it comes to communicating with prospective athletes.
The MU football, softball and baseball programs cannot compete in the postseason during the 2019-2020 academic year, and the athletic department expects to lose approximately $9-10 million in revenue.
Every recruiting restriction is harsher for Missouri than Mississippi State.
“What is different?” Cartwright asked. “If you line up those two cases, it's extremely similar and yet the outcomes are drastically different. That's why it's so difficult for us to explain this to our student-athletes, our coaches, our fans and others.”
One major difference from the Tigers' NCAA appeal is that Mississippi State worked with the NCAA through a negotiated resolution process, a new procedure that allows the school in question and the NCAA to agree on violations and penalties without having to hold official hearings.
The new bylaw passed in August 2018 and took effect this past January, the same month the NCAA Committee on Infractions announced Missouri's sanctions.
According to NCAA regulations, resolutions that have been negotiated cannot be appealed and don't set precedent for future cases.
Sterk said he believes one of the reasons the appeals committee didn’t lift any sanctions against Missouri was because the case didn’t follow the new guidelines.
“Why the heck do you have an appeals process if they can’t overturn a decision like that where there was exemplary cooperation? I think I had hoped with the Mississippi State case that they had circled back,” Sterk said.
Another previous NCAA academic fraud case may have affected the penalties Missouri received. Earlier this decade, North Carolina got caught red-handed with 200 questionable academic courses offered to student-athletes over two decades. The Tar Heels received no crippling punishments from the case, which closed in 2017, as the NCAA concluded it would not punish the school because the classes were available to all students.
“People have asked about the North Carolina case. Did that have an impact? I think it probably did,” Sterk said. “I think we were the next case up after that and those folks on the committee on infractions, they had a strong opinion of what should've happened with the North Carolina case and then we were the next case up. But that’s all speculation.”