Howard football players declared ineligible for season-opening games


“We understand the situation. Whatever the ruling is, whatever the NCAA’s plan, we have our plan as well,” said Howard Coach Gary Harrell. (Jonathan Newton/THE WASHINGTON POST)
August 23, 2012

Up to 14 Howard University football players have been declared ineligible to participate in season-opening games by the NCAA, the result of the organization’s continuing investigation into the student-athletes’ improper use of their textbook allowances.

“Right now, it’s not a distraction,” Bison Coach Gary Harrell said Thursday. “We understand the situation. Whatever the ruling is, whatever the NCAA’s plan, we have our plan as well.”

The names or the exact number of the players who will miss time were not immediately made available by the school or the NCAA, but those players will miss one to three games, depending on the extent of the violation. Harrell said the affected players will be able to practice while they wait to regain eligibility.

Howard opens the season Sept. 1 against rival Morehouse at RFK Stadium.

Harrell said the list of ineligible players could include sophomore quarterback Greg McGhee, the reigning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rookie of the year, and senior linebacker Keith Pough, the MEAC preseason defensive player of the year. If McGhee were to miss time, Harrell said quarterback duties would fall to junior Randy Liggins Jr. and freshman Jamie Cunningham.

In late March, Howard temporarily withheld a number of student-athletes — on a number of teams competing in spring sports — from competition as it conducted an internal investigation into possible NCAA violations. The university canceled several games in the following days but reinstated all of the athletes a week later, saying it would continue its review of the matter.

The current eligibility issues for fall athletes mainly focus on football, though one women’s volleyball player was also affected, according to university spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton.

Representatives from Howard and the NCAA declined to discuss the matter further, citing NCAA policy that forbids comment on an ongoing investigation.

In the spring, a Howard softball player told The Post it was common for some Bison athletes to pocket the difference between the cost of their books and their textbook allowance. The NCAA allows schools to pay for books required by scholarship athletes for their classes. Schools can provide athletes with cash to pay for those books if the amount is equal to the cost of the books.

Players who are found to be profiting from textbook purchases would be deemed ineligible by the NCAA until they pay back the impermissible benefit and then subsequently subjected to withholding from competition based on the value of the benefit.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the reinstatement process for the Howard football players began in February after the university self-reported the violations. She said an additional 15 players have pending eligibility cases but declined to provide a timeline for when those cases would be fully processed.

The Howard football team — which finished 5-6 in 2011, a four-win improvement in Harrell’s first season — was allowed to continue holding spring practice while athletes from other sports were declared temporarily ineligible.

All the players in question would be eligible for the Sept. 29 home game against Savannah State.

“I want to be real great this year,” Harrell said. “This situation is a little hindrance, but it’s not going to stop us from what we’re trying to get accomplished. We’ll be fine. This is just going to be a bump in the road.”

Howard, picked to finish eighth in the 11-team MEAC, will also be without fifth-year senior left tackle Cory Gwinner, a preseason all-conference pick, for the first few weeks of the season as he recovers from April surgery on his right knee.

“Coach always says, ‘One man doesn’t stop the show,’ ” Gwinner said. “Even if he’s not out there, the left guard’s not out there, the running back’s not out there, we have to still continue to play Howard football. One person don’t determine whether we win or lose, it’s a whole collective effort.”

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