Missouri has progressed through the offseason with a cloud over its head.
Back in January, the Tigers were surprisingly hit with a one-year postseason ban by the NCAA after it was found that a former tutor for the athletic department completed academic coursework for multiple student-athletes, including football players. The university quickly fought back against the NCAA ruling and formally appealed the decision in March.
Months later, with the football season around the corner, Missouri is still waiting to find out if the postseason ban, which the school deemed “overly harsh” and “contrary to NCAA case precedent,” will be overturned.
At SEC media days on Monday, Tigers head coach Barry Odom described what his program’s offseason of uncertainty has been like. He said he won’t let his players sit around and wonder if they’ll be able to compete for an SEC title or even play in a bowl game.
“The amount of time we spend on those thoughts doesn’t do anything for us beneficially to move our program forward. It’s out of our control. Wasted thoughts,” Odom said.
Last month, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk told reporters that the school had an NCAA hearing scheduled for July. According to CBS, that hearing before the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee will take place “this week” with a final decision coming in mid-August or September.
“We anticipate that we’ll get some closure soon,” Odom said. “I am thankful for the way that our administration has approached it. It was a very aggressive approach, but also with respect. The way I’ll handle that with my team will be very direct, open and honest.”
Odom: No players transferred after postseason ban
When a program is hit with a postseason ban, NCAA rules leave the door open for seniors to transfer without having to sit out a year. Odom has acknowledged the need to recruit his own players to stay at Missouri and even called out other SEC programs for trying to poach his seniors.
In the end, Missouri did not have a single player enter the transfer portal as a result of the postseason ban, Odom said Monday. He said the leadership in the locker room made that possible.
“You look at the things that they've done together, the investment they had with each other, the brotherhood, the love, and the care for each other. I think they drew a line in the sand and said this is what we're going to do in 2019 as a team together, and they stood by it,” Odom said. “That's a close, close group.”
Odom: Kelly Bryant has been ‘natural fit’
That group includes Kelly Bryant, the hyped quarterback transfer from Clemson. Bryant started the 2018 season as Clemson’s No. 1 quarterback, but was supplanted by star freshman Trevor Lawrence. While Lawrence went on to lead Clemson to a national title, Bryant left the team after four games in order to maintain his final year of eligibility as a graduate transfer.
Odom said Bryant has been a “natural fit” since landing in Columbia.
“When Kelly stepped on campus for his official visit, I saw interaction between him and our team in the locker room. It was a natural fit,” Odom said. “He's a very selfless person, low, low ego. And one of the best competitors I have ever been around.”
Bryant said Monday that he never considered leaving Missouri after the postseason ban was handed down.
“I didn’t want to go through that recruiting process over again,” Bryant said. “I had already built relationships over a month or two with the guys. I was establishing myself and working every day, so I was like, ‘This is where I want to be. I made the decision. I’m not going to turn back on it now.’”
Bryant will succeed NFL draft choice Drew Lock as Mizzou’s starting quarterback. He led Clemson to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2017, but struggled against Alabama in a semifinal loss.
In 2017, Bryant threw for 2,802 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 65.8 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 665 yards and 11 scores. In his four starts in 2018, Bryant threw for 456 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 144 yards and two more scores.
At Missouri, Bryant will get the chance to improve his NFL stock while learning under the same coaches who helped develop Lock into a second-round pick.
And if the NCAA postseason ban is overturned, he will get a chance to lead what could be a much-improved team that contends for an SEC East crown.
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