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Howard University’s Suspension of Student-Athletes

Yesterday, the Washington City Paper reported that Howard University, a Division I school which competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, “. . . suspended all of its intercollegiate athletics teams for what appears to be a violation of the NCAA rules.”

The magnitude of this announcement surprised many, as the suspension of an entire athletic program seemed drastic.  When it was announced that the entire athletics program had been suspended, one Division I compliance official who spoke to on the condition of anonymity said, “I would speculate that the potential problems are department-wide and not necessarily limited to specific teams.”  This person further explained that, “Schools are supposed to police themselves and hold out student-athletes who are believed to have been involved with NCAA violations.”

Given this, I contacted Howard’s communications Director, Kerry-Ann Hamilton.  Hamilton responded as follows:

“Howard University is conducting an internal investigation of possible NCAA rules-violations. As a result of this process, the University temporarily withheld a number of student-athletes from competition as a self-imposed action.  Most teams will compete as scheduled. We are working diligently to fully resolve this matter as quickly as a possible. In order to protect the integrity of this review, we are unable to share additional details at this time.”

Thus, contrary to the Washington City Paper’s initial report, Howard did not suspend its entire athletics program.  Rather, it appears that Howard’s actions in this matter run the typical route of NCAA compliance, which requires internal investigations and self-policing.

Later yesterday afternoon, the Washington City Paper reported that a bowling team member said that the investigation was the result of textbook vouchers given to student-athletes.  Given that Howard is unable to share additional details, this has not been confirmed by

NCAA Bylaw 15.2.3 provides, “A member institution may provide a student-athlete financial aid that covers the actual cost of required course-related books.”  Per NCAA Bylaw, “There is no dollar limit for books a student-athlete may receive, provided each book is required for a course in which the student-athlete is enrolled. The institution may provide the student-athlete with cash to purchase books, as long as the amount of cash provided is equal to the actual cost of the books purchased.”

Thus, a potential NCAA violation may arise, if a student-athlete who is given a voucher to purchase books for classes he or she enrolls in, drops one of the classes for which he or she obtained a book using that voucher and then returns the book and holds onto the cash received. 

If book vouchers are given to every student-athlete, this is a situation which could potentially cause a large majority of student-athletes to be in violation of the NCAA bylaws.  Hence, this may provide some insight as to why it was initially reported that Howard had suspended its entire athletics department.

Ultimately, it is to be seen what the investigation unearths.  If the investigation was the result of student-athletes obtaining money from selling books, expect there to be large public outcry against the NCAA, and also further pushes for student-athletes to receive a higher cost of living allowance.


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