Two of the seven football players who were declared academically ineligible Aug. 29 insist they were misinformed about what credits they had earned and were unaware of being in academic jeopardy until four days before the season opener Sept. 1.
JC Braker and Bobby Fulmore, both seniors, said they were informed of their ineligibility by compliance coordinator Andrew Cardamone in private meetings with coaches and academic advisers before practice on Sunday, Aug. 28. Due to poor communication between Temple’s Student Services and Compliance Office and Academic Support for Student-Athletes office, Braker and Fulmore said they were ineligible despite taking only the classes they were advised to take and believing they had received credit for every class.
Director of athletics Bill Bradshaw countered that the players were ineligible due to poor grades in required classes, and that “better grades would have rendered all of them eligible,” he said.
According to Fulmore and Braker, Cardamone told the ineligible players that the administrators previously in charge of compliance, who have since been replaced, did not completely understand the stricter guidelines implemented this year by the NCAA. Therefore, the credits and grades the players earned that would have been valid under the old system were invalid.
Braker and Fulmore, plus two others who declined direct comment for this story, expressed outrage at being punished for what they saw as an administrative error.
“[Anger] was everyone’s first reaction,” Fulmore said. “We were like, we’ve got to suffer for this even when you all admit you made mistakes and were doing things wrong? [Academic support’s] thing was, the former compliance coordinator told them it was OK to do it this way.”
Per NCAA rules, all student-athletes must pass at least 18 credits between the fall and spring semesters and 24 total credits including summer sessions. There is also a percentage rule requiring a student-athlete to complete 50 percent of credits toward his major by his fourth year and 75 percent toward his major by his fifth year; the newly-implemented Academic Progress Rate upped those percentages to 60 and 80 percent, respectively, and no credit is given for Ds.
In addition, Temple requires a minimum grade point average that rises depending on the number of academic years a student-athlete is enrolled. Fulmore and Braker said they were told to maintain a 2.0 GPA.
Every player’s reason for being ineligible was different, both the players and Bradshaw agreed. The common thread, according to the players, was that advisers either told the players to enroll in classes that would not grant progress toward their majors, or advisers mistakenly counted Ds as earned credits and calculated those into the players’ percentages.
“I took whatever classes they told me I was supposed to,” Braker said. “I passed my classes and got my 24 credits I needed on the year. I got over the 2.0 GPA, everything. So I figured I was straight. Then four days before the game, this just pops up.”
Both Braker and Fulmore said they got Ds in key classes that left them short of their percentages, but that both Ds occurred early enough that they could have been informed in time and taken the classes again. While Braker and Fulmore asked not to have their exact GPAs published, the cumulative GPAs they provided were above Temple’s required minimum to compete.
Therefore, the players concurred, Bradshaw’s assertion that better grades would have rendered the players eligible is somewhat accurate. The poor grades could have been fixed, Braker said, but the academic support office, headed by Walt Holliday, told them those grades were acceptable to the NCAA, and therefore did not advise the players to pursue the classes again.
“This is D-I,” said Braker, referring to Division I-A college athletics, the most well-financed level of collegiate competition. “If somebody tells you something, that’s the word.”
In cases involving student-athletes’ eligibilities and academic records, Bradshaw said, Holliday and Cardamone are not permitted to comment.
The preseason depth chart listed Fulmore as the Owls’ starting strong safety. Four other projected starters – running back Tim Brown, wide receiver Mike Holley, cornerback David Reese and guard Sam McNaulty – were among those ineligible. Braker was expected to be the primary backup at both right and left defensive end. Guard David Fatherly was the only of the seven players who was not listed on the two-deep depth chart.
Fulmore and Braker’s college football careers are effectively over, as their ineligibility this season exhausted their four seasons of eligibility as college athletes. Junior Justin Johnson, who was not included among the seven in the Aug. 29 announcement, is appealing to the NCAA for reinstatement. If Johnson’s appeal is denied, he too is finished as a college football player.
From what the other players have told him, Fulmore said, all seven players were above the minimum 2.0 GPA.
Up to this point, the university and the department of athletics have been quiet as to the back story of why so many players were declared ineligible so close to the opening of the season. Their silence, Fulmore said, leads the public to assume the student-athletes were simply negligent in their studies.
“Looking at what it says on the news and on Owlsports [the athletics department’s Web site], the whole feeling is bad,” Fulmore said. “I’m trying to get help from professors right now and they’re looking at you like, ‘Aren’t you that guy that was on the news for being ineligible?’ They don’t want any part of that.”
In the four weeks since the announcement, Wallace has said repeatedly that he and the rest of the team wish to put the loss of so many key players behind them and play on with what they have. The eligible players offered words of encouragement immediately after the announcement but in comments to reporters seemed eager to move on as well. After suffering three double-digit losses to start the season, Fulmore said, his teammates realized the loss of six starters affected them more than they thought it would.
“Nobody really questioned anything [at first],” Fulmore said. “I think it’s probably because they didn’t think it’d affect them like it has affected them, but now people come up to us like, ‘Yo, we need y’all out there.'”
Fulmore and Braker’s chances at professional football careers were thin from the outset, but both said these events have rendered their chances almost non-existent. They will attend NFL combines without any game film from their senior years. Through another administrative glitch, Braker will go to pro tryouts without ever having played a Division I-A snap.
Last year, after transferring from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, Braker spent the entire season sidelined with a knee injury. When informed of his ineligibility this year, Braker said he was upset at first but not crushed. Since he was injured in 2004, Braker assumed, he could get an extra year of eligibility for 2006 with an injury hardship waiver.
“I was like, okay, if I can’t play this year, will I be able to get my year back from last year?” Braker said he asked Cardamone. “He said, ‘No, there’s no way you can get a medical redshirt for a year that you were ineligible. I said, ‘What? I was ineligible?’ Nobody ever let me know that.”
The biggest shock, according to Fulmore, was in the timing. Most players in danger of being ineligible for any reason meet with coaches and advisers to discuss what they need to do to stay eligible or what their transfer or redshirt options are if they cannot get eligible.
Most of the players never received a warning, Fulmore said, leaving them with few options once the axe came down. Brown chose to take a redshirt after starting at tailback as a first-year junior last season and would not comment for this story. Johnson said he has appealed and declined comment pending his appeal. Braker said he is possibly seeking to transfer to a Division II school. Fulmore said he was encouraged when he heard some Division II programs were interested in him, until he found out what the move would entail.
“I was getting calls from Southwest Baptist in Missouri, and they wanted me to move by [that] Thursday,” Fulmore said. “Pack up and catch a flight. It’s hard to pack up and transfer to a whole new city in like two days. But that’s what we were forced into.”
Fulmore and Braker said they were appreciative of support they got from coaches, teammates and advisers after the fact. According to Braker, outside safeties coach Spencer Prescott helped him by explaining the extenuating circumstances to Braker’s grandmother.
“Grandma snapped on me,” Braker said. “She thought it was my fault and I had to let her know. Coach Prescott, he’s the one who recruited me, had to call her up and explain to her what happened.”
Fulmore admitted it took him a few days before he could call his family and tell them the news.
“It took a while. I didn’t tell them the first day,” Fulmore said. “It’s almost to the point that you don’t want to be a disappointment to your family. On the whole, they probably won’t understand the situation. They’ll be thinking, kind of how the news puts it out, that you’re academically ineligible because you didn’t do your work.”
When any of the players contact compliance officers or advisers, Braker said, they hear apologies and words of encouragement. Despite their apparent sincerity, Braker said, the apologies are hard to swallow.
“At the end of the day, you all are going to apologize and say it was your fault, but you’re not going to be punished for it,” Braker said of the administrators. “You’re all going to pick up your checks next week and we still won’t be playing.”
Determining whether student-athletes are in compliance with NCAA regulations is entirely the obligation of the university, NCAA spokesman Kent Barrett said. For the better part of last year, Bradshaw said, Temple did not have anyone in charge of compliance because the athletics department was “shorthanded.”
“That won’t happen again,” Bradshaw said.
But while compliance has added Cardamone and Sherryta Freeman, the newly hired assistant athletic director in charge of compliance, Fulmore and Braker said the players are still being asked to pay for the mistakes of Cardamone and Freeman’s predecessors. In addition, academic support continues to be shorthanded, Fulmore and Braker said. Holliday and academic coordinator Kenyatta Rush are in charge of keeping every member of the roster in good academic standing with the NCAA and the university. Academic coordinators Margo Jackson and Tiffany Jones complete a four-person staff in charge of advising every student-athlete on Temple’s 24 athletic teams.
“I don’t think two people are enough for football,” Fulmore said. “And four aren’t enough for all sports.”
If given another chance, Fulmore said, he would be more responsible about monitoring his own academic progress. Braker said he felt the same way until he took a closer look at the rules.
“[Student-athletes] don’t have time to be doing stuff like that,” Braker said. “Even if we did have time, we don’t know how to do the percentage. It’s [academic support’s] job.”
Since the prospect of playing this season was all but snatched away, the players said, they have begun contemplating life without football far more seriously. There was nothing more sobering, they said, than that first few moments after they were told they were ineligible.
“You’re really at the point where you’re trying to hold in your tears,” Fulmore said. “You don’t know what to do. You want to scream or argue your case with someone, but it’s more hurt [I felt] than anything else.”
“Right after I heard the news, I left,” Braker said. “I just walked out of the room and drove to the house. I sat in the car outside the house for like 30 minutes thinking, ‘This is crazy.'”
“I expected to play D-I football. I’ve wanted to play college football since I was a boy,” he continued. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. And it was like they crushed everything for me when they told me I wasn’t going to be able to play this year. That hurt bad.”
Ben Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.