The NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) hit Savannah State University with a two-year probation after SSU acknowledged to the COI of violations pertaining to student-athlete eligibility over five academic years starting in 2013-2014 through 2017-2018. The probation will last from June 20, 2019 to June 19, 2021.
The NCAA’s findings are related to ten sports offered by SSU which include men’s basketball, baseball, cross country, football, golf, track & field and women’s: basketball, softball, track & field and volleyball.
The NCAA found that SSU failed to monitor the conduct and administration of its athletics program which resulted in 43 student athletes being improperly certified to compete. SSU will be subject to a set of penalties, most of which are self-imposed, adopted by the COI panel. NCAA Level II penalties which include two years of probation for SSU’s athletics program, a $5,000 fine and the school must vacate regular season and conference tournament records involving ineligible student-athletes.
According to the decision, many of the certification issues stemmed from the university’s failure to certify amateurism and progress-toward-degree requirements. The university also violated rules when it allowed two student-athletes with expired eligibility and two non-qualifers to compete.
The committee and the university agreed that persistent turnover caused several breakdowns, such as not following written policies, inadequate communication and insufficient rules education. In its decision, the committee noted “all of these weaknesses combined to create a lack of checks and balances needed to ensure academic certification was complete and accurate.”
According to the NCAA report, in February 2017, Savannah State became aware it had potential certification violations and deficiencies from the Academic Performance Program audit preliminary findings. At that time, the institution took no affirmative steps to review or self-disclose the potential violations.
At the times of these violations, Sterling Steward, Jr. served as the SSU athletics director. Steward came to Savannah State in 2012 and stayed until 2018 when he resigned to take the same position at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Steward, resigned from UAF in June, lasting just eight months in Alaska.
During his seven years at SSU, Steward had five compliance officers: Shed Dawson (2005-11), Jason Cable (2011-12), Michael Thompson (2012-14), Jared Ratliff (2015-16) and Julius Scott (2016-18).
Steward hired Danita Townsend as his Associate Athletic Director for Administration and Senior Women’s Administration in 2012. One of her duties as Associate AD for Administration was to oversee compliance. Townsend stayed in that position from 2012-16.
Dawson and Townsend are still employed at SSU. Dawson is the Greek Life Coordinator while Townsend is the Director of Retention and Access to Success. Cable is the Senior Associate Commissioner for the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Ratliff is the Assistant Athletic Director for Student Athlete Services at Bethune-Cookman and Scott is the Director of Compliance at Norfolk State. Thompson no longer works in athletes and is employed in the private sector as a substance abuse counselor in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Savannah State also faced major violations from the NCAA in 2006 and 1998.
In addition, SSU will ensure that employees involved in the eligibility certification process attend required NCAA rules seminars and will continue to develop and implement NCAA compliance education programs for athletic personnel and others responsible for NCAA certification. SSU also will receive public reprimand and censure.
In response, SSU has adopted and will fully comply with the NCAA corrective actions under the leadership of new athletic director Opio Mashariki and has taken additional corrective measures to include the hiring of Kim Miller, Ph.D. as Associate Athletic Director for Compliance and Academics; revamped the certification committee to include the Faculty Athletic Representative (Shalonda Mullgrav, Ph.D.), Associate Athletic Director for Compliance and Academics (Kim Miller, Ph.D.) and the Registrar (Kathleen Platt); and has established a training schedule for appropriate university personnel to attend NCAA regional rules seminars.
Other schools with cases similar to Savannah State are Charleston Southern, North Carolina Central and Grambling State. In 2018, Charleston Southern was cited for improperly certifying 55 student-athletes in 12 sports over a six year period. Also in 2018, NCCU was charged with improperly certifying 22 student-athletes in seven sports over a three year span and in 2017, Grambling had violations of having 45 student-athletes receive improper certification in 11 sports over a three and a half year period.
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