City Desk

Howard University Suspends All Sports Teams, Games [UPDATE-- University: "Most teams will compete as scheduled."]

Howard University has suspended all of its intercollegiate athletics teams for what appears to be a violation of NCAA rules. University spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton issued this statement:

It is with great regret that we have temporarily suspended intercollegiate athletic competition. This is a self-imposed action while the University conducts a review. We are working quickly to resolve this issue.

More details as they become available.

UPDATE 3:21 p.m. Coppin State athletics spokesperson Roger McAfee tells us that he hasn't haven't been informed whether the school's upcoming softball matches with Howard have been suspended. Howard lacrosse is also scheduled to play at Wesleyan next week. A rep at Wesleyan tells us, "I'm not aware that they have suspended our upcoming game."

UPDATE 3:27 p.m. Here's the reaction from one Howard athlete, who didn't want to be identified speaking publicly about the situation: "This whole situation is frustrating, and it shows how things within athletics need to be reformed and fixed. Many athletes have had their eligibility taken away and that has affected many sports dramatically. This needs to serve as a learning experience for both the athletes and the department."

UPDATE 3:44 p.m. A member of the Howard bowling team says a senior athletic administrator told the team the university is investigating problems with textbook vouchers given to athletes. According to the bowler, the university allowed athletes to spend money that they didn't use on books on whatever they wanted, a possible violation of NCAA rules. The bowler says the university is demanding that any money spent improperly be repaid to Howard and that athletes won't be able to register for classes until they clear up the matter.

The university, which hasn't yet responded to requests for detailed information, has not confirmed that account.

UPDATE 4:32 p.m. An NCAA compliance officer at another school, who would only discuss the situation under condition of anonymity, tells us that while colleges expect to have some rule violations, their job is to self-police and then report to the NCAA for further recommendations, if any. The officer says Howard's suspension suggests problems that go further than a book voucher problem with one team: "For [Howard] to self-impose complete suspension, they must not have been doing anything in compliance."

UPDATE 4:49 p.m. A former Howard football player says he, at least, never saw any unspent book voucher money. Branden Bufford, 24, who graduated in 2011, tells City Paper the athletic department used to forward his class schedule to the university bookstore, and books would be purchased for him. But Bufford did say he'd heard some student-athletes would register for extra classes, get the books, then drop the classes and sell the books.

"It's unfortunate that the athletes may have to miss games because of this," he says. "I don't know why they're up in arms about something that happens all the time, and worse things have happened. I guess the new sports administration is trying to put their foot down early."

Howard hired a new athletic director, Skip Perkins, in December 2010.

UPDATE 4:58 p.m. An NCAA spokesman, Christopher Radford, says the organization "cannot comment on current, pending or potential investigations."

UPDATE 5:47 p.m. A current Howard athlete, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, tells us that the book voucher issue extends across all teams and sports. The student athlete says the university has not been keeping track of textbook voucher money awarded to athletes since 2010—and now every team has students who are ineligible to play under NCAA rules.

"The people who disbursed the money weren't properly overseeing the book vouchers," the student says. "Now that the budget is under scrutiny, and they're looking at all the money being disbursed, they're blaming it on athletes."

According to that student, some athletes received refund checks for unspent textbook voucher funds without being told where the money was coming from; other athletes knowingly spent the money improperly on items available in the bookstore like iPads; and others spent the extra money on school supplies like notebooks and pens. "Because there is such a turnover in athletic personnel, you hear different things about what you can purchase," the student says.

At no point, the student says, were athletes given guidance on how to spend their vouchers: "In order to take the heat off of them, [athletics officials are] pointing the finger at us."

The university, meanwhile, still hasn't responded to any additional questions besides its initial statement.

UPDATE 6:48 p.m. Howard University officials have now released a clarifying statement: "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 possible. In order to protect the integrity of this review, we are unable to share additional details at this time."

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