After a star football player was found ineligible, the Athletic Dept. tried to arrange a last minute independent study. and Tammy Reiss In the aftermath of what professors called a failed attempt by the Athletic Department to cover up a star football player's academic ineligibility, the University faces a scandal that could force the team to forfeit many of its victories. The University will investigate whether Athletic Department officials tried to arrange what one History professor described as an "obviously inappropriate" independent study course for fifth-year College senior Mitch Marrow, a two-time all-Ivy League defensive tackle and pro prospect, after they realized his part-time status deemed him ineligible to compete under NCAA regulations. Marrow, 22, had dropped one of his three classes early in the fall semester due to mononucleosis, and his two classes gave him part-time status. The NCAA allows only full-time students to compete in intercollegiate athletics. If officials determine that Marrow indeed played while ineligible and the team is forced to forfeit the five victories that Marrow participated in, Penn's 6-4 record in 1997 could fall to 1-9. The negative publicity surrounding the incident could also dampen Marrow's NFL draft prospects, said Arthur Marion, Marrow's attorney. As a result, Marrow's attorneys are "considering the possibility of legal action against the individuals who we feel are responsible for this happening," Marion said. Marion declined to identify those people, but accused Undergraduate History Chairperson Bruce Kuklick of violating federal privacy laws by discussing Marrow's situation with the media and disclosing personal information such as Marrow's grade-point average. The story, first reported Thanksgiving Day in The Philadelphia Inquirer, was picked up by The Associated Press and quickly received national coverage through cable stations ESPN and CNN, as well as many newspapers. The controversy began about two weeks ago when Associate Athletic Director Denis Elton Cochran-Fikes, who is responsible for the department's compliance with NCAA regulations, contacted the office of College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robert Rescorla, seeking to reinstate Marrow into the course he had dropped. The office rejected the request because the deadline to add courses had passed September 19. Cochran-Fikes then approached first-year History Professor Beth Wenger, who has Marrow as a student this semester in her Jewish history seminar, and asked her to create an independent study course for Marrow, a History major. But, according to Wenger, adding an independent study course so late in the semester was "an arrangement I'd never made before," prompting her to approach Kuklick and History Department Chairperson Lynn Lees for advice. The two urged Wenger to reject the request, which Kuklick said was "completely unjustified" on several grounds. The decision was "not a moral dilemma or a hard call," Kuklick added. Kuklick said he suspects the request was made solely to protect Marrow's eligibility. "The Athletic Department had suddenly discovered they weren't in compliance with NCAA guidelines," he said. "This was obviously done to get Marrow in compliance with the regulations." After Wenger denied the request, Legal Studies Professor Kenneth Shropshire -- who is also the University's representative to the NCAA -- agreed to approve an independent study course for Marrow, Rescorla said. Shropshire teaches a course focusing on the business and legal aspects of sports. But because Shropshire agreed to the independent study just two weeks before the end of the semester, the College advising office had to approve the request. After receiving a written letter from Shropshire, College adviser Diane Frey decided to approve the independent study Friday, November 23 --Ethe day before the team's season closer against Cornell, Rescorla said. Shropshire did not return repeated phone calls for comment, and Frey declined to comment on any specifics of the Marrow case. However, Rescorla overturned Frey's decision last Wednesday, citing the lack of "extenuating circumstances" surrounding the request. He explained that Shropshire indicated that he was unsure whether Marrow could even finish the work by the end of the semester. Lees added that getting a request for the course just before the game "made it particularly suspect." Marion said Marrow "did absolutely nothing wrong" and added that he "may have gotten bad advice from the people who are supposed to advise him." The lawyer stressed that he didn't know many details of the situation, and he refused to allow the media to interview the 6'5", 280-pound Marrow, a 1996 and 1997 first-team all-Ivy selection. Marrow declined to comment yesterday, referring all questions to Marion. Although Marion said Kuklick's "long-standing bias" against Marrow and the football team prompted him to contact the Inquirer, Kuklick stressed that the Inquirer contacted him first. Ralph Cipriano, the reporter who wrote the Inquirer's November 27 and 28 articles on the controversy, did not return a message yesterday. In a prepared statement released Sunday, the Athletic Department said that "the University has certain procedures in place for such investigations and will follow these protocols." "It is expected that a preliminary report will be submitted to the Ivy League Office within ten days," the November 30 statement said. The NCAA typically defers questions over regular-season eligibility to individual conferences. Officials have yet to determine who will sit on the "small" investigatory committee examining the incident, Athletic Director Steve Bilsky said. Although Bilsky said he wasn't sure if the committee's report would be publicly available, he said the department would "absolutely" issue a statement on the report. Ivy League Executive Director Jeff Orleans said his office would review the report and "make a judgment as to what it means and then if anything should happen after that." He refused to comment on possible consequences, such as the forfeiture of games, which might result from the incident. Cochran-Fikes and other Penn athletics officials refused to comment. Several NCAA officials wouldn't comment on Marrow's situation, saying they do not yet know the specifics surrounding the case. Marrow returned to play this fall in hopes of impressing pro scouts and increasing his draft prospects. Despite his lack of playing time, he was still named to the all-Ivy first team for the second straight year. Marrow missed two games -- one win and one loss -- in October due to his illness and played sparingly in many others. In the Cornell game, he sat out the second half with an injury.Comments powered by Disqus
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