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The football star denied allegations that Athletic Department officials attempted to cover up his academic ineligibility. Almost one week after news of his athletic ineligibility became public, Penn football star Mitch Marrow finally decided to speak up. Describing the eligibility controversy that has rocked the Athletic Department as an "innocent mistake," Marrow said yesterday that neither he nor the department knew he was ineligible until the last week of the season. He also denied allegations of a cover-up. Marrow, 22, also accused History Undergraduate Chairperson Bruce Kuklick of reporting the incident "because I'm Jewish and a football player." The controversy began after Marrow -- an all-Ivy defensive tackle and pro prospect -- withdrew from two of his four classes at the beginning of the semester due to mononucleosis, dropping him to part-time status and making him ineligible to compete under NCAA regulations. The University, however, continued to charge Marrow full tuition, prompting his mother to call the Penn football office November 20 for advice on how to handle the situation, Marrow said. The call is what first alerted officials to the fact that Marrow had played while ineligible, he said. A committee headed by Provost Stanley Chodorow is investigating the controversy to find out whether the Athletic Department attempted to cover up Marrow's ineligibility and to determine what kind of penalty -- forfeiting the five wins Marrow played in, for instance -- should be assessed. Marrow, in an interview yesterday with The Daily Pennsylvanian, charged Kuklick with "slandering my name and embarrassing my entire family" by contacting The Philadelphia Inquirer about the incident. Kuklick declined to comment on the allegations of bias and anti-Semitism and stressed that the Inquirer had called him first. Ralph Cipriano, the Inquirer reporter covering the controversy, said he called Kuklick but refused to say who had tipped the newspaper to the matter. The story, first reported Thanksgiving Day in the Inquirer, was picked up by The Associated Press and quickly received national coverage on cable stations ESPN and CNN, as well as many newspapers. Before yesterday, Marrow referred all questions to his attorney, Arthur Marion. But saying he was disappointed that the University hadn't yet given an official account of the controversy, Marrow chose to tell his story to the media yesterday. Associate Athletic Director D. Elton Cochran-Fikes, who handles compliance with NCAA regulations, "made an innocent mistake," Marrow said. But he said Cochran-Fikes "kind of screwed up" by failing to provide him and two other fifth-year football players with eligibility information. Cochran-Fikes did not return a message last night. Athletic Director Steve Bilsky refused to comment on details of the case, but said the department followed "standard procedures" in reporting the possible violation to the offices of the president and provost, as well as the Ivy League. Bilsky stressed that the investigation is "not only looking at what happened" but also "at how you can improve things so that they don't happen again." Marrow, a fifth-year College senior, added that he wasn't aware of his "exact [eligibility] criteria." With Marrow in his office, Cochran-Fikes called College of Arts and Sciences Director of Advising Diane Frey November 20 -- the Thursday before the season finale against Cornell -- asking her if Marrow could re-enroll in one of the courses he had dropped, he said. Frey rejected the request. Seeking other options to restore his eligibility, Marrow then visited first-year History Professor Beth Wenger, who is teaching him this semester in a Jewish history seminar. "I'm the one who decided to go to her," Marrow said. "I have heard of regular students doing that [adding an independent-study course late in the semester] all the time." Because of the late timing of the request, Wenger consulted Kuklick and History Department Chairperson Lynn Lees, who urged her to reject the request. Wenger told Kuklick and Lees she felt pressure from the Athletic Department to add the course and protect Marrow's eligibility, Kuklick said. Wenger could not be reached for comment last night. Assistant Athletic Director and academic coordinator Robert Koonce told Marrow that Legal Studies Professor Kenneth Shropshire -- the University's NCAA faculty representative -- "was in need of someone to help him out" on a project, Marrow said. Although Marrow says he "didn't even know Professor Shropshire," the professor's research interest in sports and entertainment law intrigued him, and, on Friday, November 21, Marrow approached Shropshire regarding the independent study. Frey approved the course. But her supervisor, College Dean Robert Rescorla, overturned her decision the following Wednesday.

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