Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) football fiasco that has seen nearly two dozen of their players ruled ineligible right before a game against the University of North Carolina has created a firestorm around the Tallahassee-based school and the HBCU community.
On Tuesday, it was reported that FAMU football players Isaiah Land and Cameron Covin have obtained legal representation amid these eligibility issues. Land, who was one of the best defensive players in all of FCS football last year, is one of the 26 players deemed ineligible. And now his football season and potential football future remain uncertain.
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The situation is an example of some of the biggest issues plaguing HBCU athletic programs that are oftentimes hard to remedy due to being historically underfunded. Compliance problems at HBCUs are not rare. Many athletic departments at historically Black colleges and universities do not have the same level of resources that Power 5 universities have to allocate money for full compliance staff that stays on top of the NCAA requirements for student-athletes. But rarely do this many athletes suffer from ineligibility in one sport.
Thomas Mars, the attorney for Land and Covin, has submitted Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — the law that keeps students’ grades and academic records private — consent forms to the university to facilitate the release of all educational documents related to FAMU’s efforts to restore eligibility for the two players under NCAA bylaws, according to WTXL.
Mars told WTXL that he has never seen a situation quite like this in his five years of working with multiple universities on eligibility waivers.
It was not immediately clear where the ultimate responsibility for this debacle should fall. The Florida A&M football team sent a letter to FAMU President Dr. Larry Robinson stating its concerns and grievances about how the university was treating the student-athletes.
“Dr. Robinson, when we signed our letters of intent to become student-athletes at FAMU, we agreed to perform at our peak in the classroom, on the field, and in the community,” the letter said in part. “How can we realistically be expected to perform at a high level when we’re concerned with having adequate academic resources and whether or not we will have a roof over our heads and nourishment for our bodies?”
The letter continues:
“Our campus partners also share responsibility in this fiasco,” the letter continued. “During the admissions process, several of us had to submit academic transcripts, letters of recommendations, and immunization records multiple times because prior submissions were either misplaced or never forwarded to the proper departments.
“In the summer of 2021, we were provided tuition of up to six credit hours plus room and board. We were able to transform our bodies and developed into a championship-caliber team. This summer, your administration decided not to provide housing or meals for us during summer school. This decision has had detrimental effects on our preparation for the 2022 season. Many of us were not able to maintain or increase body weights because of a lack of nutrition. Most of us found minimum wage employment but because of educational and athletic obligations, we were unable to work enough hours to fully provide for our needs. Do you think that the same conditions are placed on the players at The University of North Carolina or Jackson State?”
Robinson met with the FAMU football team in person on Tuesday and said he came away encouraged.
“It was very productive in the sense I got to hear from them directly, what their issues & concerns are, and probably more importantly let them know that we’re committed to addressing those issues as well,” Robinson told ABC27.
Robinson also mentioned that he will commit to adding five additional compliance staffers and two additional academic advisors for the athletic program that he hopes will be hired before the end of the fall semester. This decision by Robinson is much needed in a time when HBCU athletics are increasingly gaining national attention, which could increase revenue for these schools.
There was no immediate update on the eligibility status of the players who were not allowed to compete against UNC. The Rattlers are scheduled to play arguably their most important game of the season on Sunday when they take on Jackson State University at the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami.
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