Missouri football in limbo as program waits for NCAA to rule on its bowl ban appeal
The Tigers are suddenly in the hunt for the SEC East -- and perhaps more -- after a hot start to 2019
Halfway through a resurgent season in which Missouri is suddenly a factor in the SEC East and perhaps beyond, school officials still aren't sure whether their Tigers will be allowed to play in a bowl game. Those officials continue to wait anxiously for the response of their appeal of a postseason bowl ban resulting from admitted academic fraud perpetrated by what the school suggests was a rogue part-time tutor.
On Jan. 31, Missouri was handed a postseason ban and a series of recruiting restrictions. The school immediately appealed, saying the NCAA Infractions Committee had "abused its discretion."
Seven-and-a-half months later, the case remains open -- as far as the program is concerned. Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk was told two weeks ago by an NCAA official that a decision would be coming "soon." The school is still waiting.
At the time of the penalties, Missouri cited the fact that it turned itself in and cooperated with the NCAA every step of the way. NCAA rules in such cases allow for a postseason ban.
Frustrating Missouri is a decision on the appeal wasn't supposed to take this long. Missouri appeared before the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee in mid-July. The committee then typically takes 4-8 weeks to issue a final binding ruling.
Such sanctions are typically stayed during an appeal. But with the season easing past the halfway mark, Missouri is in the increasingly uncomfortable position of playing for an SEC championship -- or nothing.
The earliest Missouri could have expected a ruling was August, according to a source close to the case. The process "could extend" into September, sources told CBS Sports in July. But mid-October is more than six weeks beyond that point.
Now ranked No. 22, Missouri is in the AP Top 25 for only the second time since 2015. It has won five games in a row. Georgia's loss put the Tigers (5-1, 2-0 SEC) at least in the discussion for the SEC East title and/or New Year's Six bowl.
"We hoped it had been resolved by now," Sterk told CBS Sports.
The delay has complicated matters on several levels.
The College Football Playoff debuts its first rankings on Nov. 5. Missouri is eligible to appear in those rankings until isn't. The CFP will not rank teams banned from the postseason, according to executive director Bill Hancock. The CFP has never had to deal with such a situation. Missouri's games will count in its opponents' schedule strength and will be considered by the CFP Selection Committee even if the Tigers do not appear in the rankings, Hancock added.
Missouri has not been eligible for the Coaches Poll since the beginning of the season. The American Football Coaches Association does not allow its members to vote for schools guilty of major NCAA sanctions. AFCA executive director Todd Berry couldn't remember a team becoming eligible for the poll after winning an appeal.
"You just never know what the NCAA is going to do in relation to how long it's going to take," Berry said. "If you knew that, it certainly would be easier to keep them in or out."
Berry added that if Missouri wins its appeal, it would be eligible for the poll in the middle of the season despite still being on a three-year probation. Coach Barry Odom is not eligible to vote in the Coaches Poll because of the probation.
If Missouri loses the appeal, it would not be eligible to win the SEC East or compete in the conference title game. In that case, the second-place team from the division would go.
Odom could lose bonuses written into his contract, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Odom receives a $5,000 bonus for each week his team appears in the AP Top 25, Coaches Poll or CFP Rankings. The bonuses go up to $100,000 for a top-five finish in any of those polls.
Odom was incensed earlier this year when hewho were allowed to transfer without restriction in event of major sanctions by the NCAA. None of his 19 seniors transferred.
All of it affects recruiting. Missouri is basically in limbo for its 2020 class. The early signing day is approximately two months away.
While Missouri appeals, most of the penalties are stayed.
If the appeal decision drags beyond the end of the season -- not likely -- the bowl ban would applied in the 2020 season. Missouri's 2020 class is currently ranked 40th nationally and 13th in the SEC, according to 247Sports. The Tigers' 2019 class finished 37th nationally, 13th in the SEC.
After the penalties were handed down, the school started a statewide campaign to essentially criticize the NCAA. As part of the "Make It Right" initiative, players wore stickers on their helmet. Missouri also has placed "Make It Right" billboards around the state.
"We have a compelling case not only for Missouri but for the entire [NCAA]," Sterk said earlier this year. "For the membership and enforcement and compliance to work … most of the decision needs to be overturned."
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