NORMAL, Ala. -- Students, alumni, and Bulldogs fans are digesting the latest news that the NCAA, in a new report, is imposing a series of penalties on Alabama A&M University for errors in certifying 101 student-athletes in 14 sports.
The report states that AAMU student-athletes competed, and received travel expenses, while ineligible for practice and/or competition. It said AAMU "employed inexperienced staff to conduct certification and did not adequately train or educate them." It added that this, and other "systemic failures," allowed A&M to violate NCAA's constitution and Bylaws.
"Although AAMU took meaningful corrective action after it learned of the systemic failures, the extent of the violations was severe," the report says, calling eligibility certification "a fundamental responsibility for a Division I institution."
The penalties include five years of probation for Alabama A&M, vacated records, postseason bans for baseball, men's basketball, football and men's golf, and more.
Now, AAMU will be watched to make sure it complies with the penalties:
"The COI [NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions] advises AAMU that it should take every precaution to ensure the terms of the penalties are observed. The COI will monitor the penalties during their effective periods. Any action by AAMU contrary to the terms of any of the penalties or any additional violations may be considered grounds for prescribing more severe penalties or may result in additional allegations and violations."
You can view the full report here.
Tonarius Gooden graduated from Alabama A&M University in 2009. He said he loves AAMU football and basketball. In fact, he has season tickets.
This makes the news about the probation and penalties upsetting to him.
"It's just very disappointing. We got a new football coach. The team seems to be playing well. You see the excitement with the students, with the team, with the alumni," he noted. "When something like this happens, it kind of deflates you. It takes that momentum you thought you were getting and kind of deflates it a little bit."
Gooden wants to be able to support the university, and said he wants the right people in place to do that alongside him on the sports program side.
"It's kind of heartbreaking that you had people that were supposed to be doing the job, but weren't doing it properly," he said.
He fears for the school's future because of these infractions, if things don't change for the better.
"People that may have been considering Alabama A&M for athletics will take a second look at it now," he worried. "Parents are going to look at that like, 'Why do I want to send my child there, it doesn't seem like they can do the right things at the right times.'"
We talked to many students on Tuesday who still had not heard the news. But one student-athlete told us off-camera, without leaving his name, that he doesn't think this is fair.
Kendrea Slaton, an Alabama A&M University freshman, puts it like this: "The consequences are now kind of affecting the players here now and the people here now. So I feel like they didn't really have any control over what happened in the past incidents. And now they're having to basically pay for it."
Slaton is not a student-athlete, but she worries for her athlete peers. Particularly when it comes to the scholarship reductions that are part of the penalties, and the way the university's sports program is perceived.
"I just hope they figure everything out and are able to reimburse the students back for their scholarships. They worked hard for it," she said. "Sports are very important. Especially at an HBCU, everyone is there to support. But it just kind of effects everyone, I guess, the view."
Alabama A&M Response
Bryan Hicks, AAMU Director of Athletics, said the school is in good standing now with its certification process.
"Since then, we have fixed the problem. We have worked diligently with the NCAA, Outside counsel, and what are areas we can improve," he said during a press conference on Tuesday.
"Those areas include hiring seasoned professionals in the areas of academics and compliance. We have created a cross-functional team that included the campus as a whole, to identify problems and concerns," he added.
The school has said the errors are not intentional, releasing a statement Tuesday afternoon. It reads in part:
"In response to the data review by the NCAA, AAMU has implemented a centralized integrated process for reviewing and validating a student's eligibility to compete. AAMU has established a cross-functional team that is responsible for the certification of student-athletes four times a year, improved communication with weekly eligibility meetings between the academic and compliance business functions, as it relates to both initial and continuing academic eligibility certifications and hired professionals with demonstrated academic and/or compliance experience in a sanctioned university athletic program."