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How'd we get here? HBCU Gameday's Vaughn Wilson talks FAMU football eligibility issues, dorm woes

A large building with several glass panels and the word "FAMU" written under an orange and green rattlesnake.
Alejandro Santiago
WFSU Public Media
The campus of Florida A&M University

Florida A&M University's Board of Trustees has scheduled a meeting for Friday to discuss the recent dorm issues and athlete eligibility problems that have gotten the Fall semester off to a rough start.

The eligibility problems resulted in 20 players not being able to make the season opener last weekend. President Larry Robinson said that they are still working to clear players through the NCAA this week and they're submitting additional names. HBCU Gameday's Vaughn Wilson recently spoke with WFSU about the situation at FAMU and how it happened. Wilson was previously employed at FAMU as an athletics administrator.

Lynn: What led to the eligibility problems in the football program that emerged last weekend?

Wilson: The problem lies with the timeline. In the spring, the athletic director Kortne Gosha resigned from FAMU and several of the people that came with him left as well. Right before Gosha left, the FAMU athletics compliance director left to go to another institution. When the interim athletic director came in, that left a shamble[d] department. Normally, the certification should have been done at the beginning of the summer. The reason those [pre] certifications are being done at the beginning of the summer is so that if an athlete, by NCAA standards, is short of hours, then they can take that many hours during the summer. Their final certification is done after the summer. That's when the certification is sent to the NCAA.

FAMU has over 300 student-athletes, [and] there was one compliance officer. That's absolutely understaffed and unacceptable.

Lynn: That's not the only issue that the football players spoke about. In an open letter, they also talked about having to submit paperwork multiple times because it got disappeared or never got to the [right] department. I read the letter, and as a person who attended FAMU...what they were saying felt familiar.

Wilson: I have to say, I think the President got the message loud and clear, with the number of people that he has committed to hiring immediately to address the issues of the football players and the student body in general. Unfortunately, you know, with the dorm situations over the last couple of weeks, the news out of FAMU has not been good.

Lynn: You raise the point about the dorms. Basically, they [FAMU] just slap ran out of the room because of so much demand for on-campus housing. Is this more so of a perfect storm because HBCUs in general, have gotten a ton of attention? And I'm [also] wondering how much that has contributed to the surge in demand at a time when FAMU is also doing some massive infrastructure [projects].

Wilson: You can directly point to the death of George Floyd and the protests and the situations that happened on campuses that were not HBCUs and students did not feel safe on those campuses. Yes, the record applications of last year were off the charts. There's a formula for a percentage of people who come this year and that number exceeded the formula that every college United States of America uses. So FAMU got caught off guard with the housing. That problem itself is not unique to FAMU.

Lynn: I was reading about Jackson State's [Univeristy] situation. Their team has been forced off of campus for being without water and without plumbing because of the flooding in the area. Both of these programs are really going through it this week. And what probably might be the biggest early season matchup [in HBCU football featuring both of these teams] is happening this weekend. Both teams are riding that struggle bus, right now.

Wilson: FAMU and Jackson State in the Orange Blossom Classic, is pretty much the premier HBCU Game of the Year. It's kind of like NASCAR. Only NASCAR has the Daytona 500, which is like the Super Bowl of racing, at the beginning of the year. There's a lot of attention being paid on this game this weekend. And both of those coaches [Deion Sanders and Willie Simmons] are in their own struggles to just get to the game, [and] to get to the point where they can get their guys to concentrate on the game.

You know, these coaches at HBCUs have to coach and deal with things that other coaches don't have to deal with. Coach [Mike] Norvell [at Florida State University] doesn't have to deal with where his players are going to stay, what they're going to eat, if they're going to have tutors [and] how are they getting to the game. He never, ever has to worry about those. There are people that do that.

FAMU President Larry Robinson has promised to hire at least seven additional advising and compliance officers in athletics within the net 30-45 days. Tickets that were cut have now been restored to players to give to their families, and students who had to evacuate dorms due to a fire, water damage, and pest problems, will be returning during the upcoming week.

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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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