SU athletic teams facing post-season ineligibility

Southern University is reaching the climax of a months-long effort to provide documentation of academic progress by its student-athletes to the NCAA in order to lift a ban on postseason play for all Jaguars programs.

The issue is most pressing for the five winter sports, most notably the men’s and women’s basketball teams, which are both in first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference with the start of the league’s tournament looming in 25 days.

Three other winter sports — men’s and women’s indoor track and women’s bowling — also have upcoming postseasons.

The SWAC track meet, for which the men’s program was already ineligible because of previous sanctions, is Feb. 22-23. Southern athletic director William Broussard met with the track teams Thursday and informed the women’s team that its chances of participating in the conference meet are “grim.”

Broussard said the NCAA has given no indication any sanctions might be applied retroactively, meaning the Jaguars’ 2013 SWAC football championship appears safe.

Southern was one of several NCAA-member institutions that were notified before the start of this academic year that they were selected to be part of a new annual review of academic performance by student-athletes. That review uncovered what the NCAA termed “unusable data” in the Jaguars’ documentation of its Academic Performance Program and Graduation Success rate, leading the NCAA to notify Southern of the postseason ban in early December.

Once notified of the requested paperwork dating to the 2009-10 academic year, which requires some data from as far back as 2003, the university pulled together a 12-person task force, which included representatives from the athletic department, registrar’s office, institutional research, information technology, admissions and financial aid as well various colleges, to spearhead the collection of the documentation.

“It’s a monumental task,” Chancellor James Llorens said. “We worked through the holidays. We worked through the ice storms.”

They were still working late into the night Thursday with additional deadlines looming Friday and Wednesday.

Broussard said the Jaguars already have met seven NCAA deadlines designed to have the paperwork submitted in time for a ruling by the NCAA committee on academic performance before the start of the basketball postseason. Broussard said he hopes to respond to any additional requests stemming from the submitted data to the NCAA by the end of next week.

“The deadlines were set in such a fashion that if we completed the documentation in the prescribed time the bans on postseason play could potentially be lifted before the start of the winter sports championship season,” Broussard said. “We are working diligently with the NCAA in hopes of that happening.”

Broussard said the athletes demonstrated “a mix of resolve and disappointment” when first notified of the bans.

Though Llorens said the current situation “is not indicative of the current coaches and the athletes, who are all performing well academically,” multiple Southern programs have been sanctioned in recent years for substandard Academic Progress Rates. (The men’s basketball team was ineligible for the 2012 postseason, and football was ineligible in 2011.)

Three NCAA officials visited the Southern campus in November to provide training to campus-wide administrators for efficiently compiling and reporting academic information on student-athletes.

The training, which involved approximately 25 Southern officials over two days of meetings, was an effort by the university to lessen the chances of future sanctions. During the training, “irregularities” were discovered in the academic records of a few men’s basketball players, and two had to sit out the home opener against Tulane while the irregularities were cleared up.

That incident and the current one are indications that the school’s attempt to escape the ramifications of insufficient record-keeping in the past remains a work in progress.

“It’s a setback, of course,” Broussard said, “but we hope it’s a temporary setback.”

The SWAC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be March 11-15 in Houston, and the NCAA tournament starts the following week. If the Jaguars are ineligible for the NCAA tournament, under SWAC rules they would not be able to participate in the SWAC tournaments, because the winners of those tournaments receive automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.

The men and women are both 10-1 in league play as they prepare to host Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday. The men hold a two-game lead on second-place Alabama State, and the women have a half-game lead over second-place Texas Southern.

The SWAC bowling tournament is scheduled for March 21-23.

When asked about the volume of paperwork yet to be completed with the postseason looming, Broussard said, “We have a sense of how great the amount of data is that we need to complete for the review.”

“All we can control now is working furiously to submit the data,” Broussard said. “Obviously, time is of the essence.”