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FAMU responds after the football team voices its plan to protest following an eligibility debacle

A football quarterback in a green jersey right after throwing. His arm is mid-motion.
Will Brown
Used with Permission
Florida A&M quarterback Rasean McKay has led the Rattlers to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time in 2001. (Photo by Will Brown)

Florida A&M University’s football season got underway in North Carolina this past weekend in a game that almost didn’t happen due to last-minute problems with eligibility that resulted in 20 players, some starters, having to sit out. Now, the team is promising to protest until changes are made in the athletics department and the university's president is vowing to make that happen.

The loss of those players, and the resulting lack of depth at certain positions, left the FAMU team vulnerable to injury, which the players noted in an open letter to university president Dr. Larry Robinson Monday.

FAMU was able to keep the game against UNC competitive up until the fourth quarter, when the University of North Carolina scored 21 unanswered points. According to the open letter, two FAMU football players suffered season-ending injuries during the game. Ahead of Saturday’s match-up, there was uncertainty over whether the Rattlers would even be able to make the trip—due to the eligibility problems. FAMU was expected to earn $450,000 for the game.

In the letter, players expressed disappointment in reading headlines about the situation that highlighted eligibility concerns, stating "this narrative implies that we are not performing in the classroom. In fact, that couldn't be further from the truth. The issue at hand is not academic performance, but procedural issues within the registrar's office, compliance department and academic advisement."

The letter goes on to state players have experienced delays in obtaining financial aid, have had to resubmit paperwork multiple times for academic transfers, letters of recommendation and immunization forms because “prior submissions were either misplaced or never forwarded to the proper departments.” The players also blame bad academic advisement for at least one player being three credits shy of being eligible to play. The players also note that there is only one academic advisor assigned to the athletics department for 300-plus student-athletes. They also criticize the university for cutting the number of tickets they’re able to give to their families, and not providing housing or meal programs to players during the summer so that they could maintain their physical conditioning.

The team is demanding a seat at the table as the school searches for a new athletics director. Players say they’ll take a knee and continue kneeling in protest of the university’s policies during the playing of “Florida Song” and FAMU’s alma mater.

“We will continue to do so until significant changes that facilitate a positive student-athlete experience are made. We will not sing a song that begins ‘College of Love and Charity…’ when we feel neither from this university," they said in the letter.

It was signed by 89 players.

Robinson issued a statement in response, placing some of the blame for the botched eligibility certifications on the NCAA and a tight turnaround time to confirm grades. Grades for the final summer classes were due on August 1 and released to students on the 2nd.

“Consistent with FAMU’s long-standing commitment to maintaining a culture of compliance and conformance with NCAA guidelines, we are justifiably proud of having achieved 13 of our 14 sports programs fully meeting the Academic Progress Rate (APR) requirements per the NCAA’s November 2021 APR Report in spite of rumors and misinformation to the contrary.

Our Compliance Team, which includes partners from Compliance, Athletics, Academic Affairs, and Student Affairs, has been working diligently with Athletics since Fall 2021 to implement plans for the remaining non-compliant program to meet the required APR score and join the others so that 100 percent compliance is achieved.

After the assessments of Spring and Summer 2022 academic progress, the Compliance team exercised its due diligence to complete the certification process on August 11 before the Fall sports season began. These are, as always, tight windows and beginning on August 13 waivers began to be submitted to the NCAA based on feedback from our coaches. The NCAA subsequently issued its decisions on August 24, 25, and 26, 2022.”

The FAMU-UNC game was played on Aug. 27th.

“We are confident that our processes are effective and timely,” said Robinson. “We will continue to monitor our efforts in this regard and pursue all avenues to provide an excellent student experience to every athlete. FAMU is committed to upholding high standards and rigorous adherence to NCAA guidelines.”

A search for a new athletics director is underway with six finalists named. Interim athletics director Michael Smith is among them. The vacancy at the top came after former athletics director Kortne Gosha abruptly resigned last April, following an investigation by a 3rd party law firm into his leadership which found Gosha oversaw several unauthorized licensing deals, unauthorized hiring of personnel, and NCAA violations.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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