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Savannah State scrambles to meet MEAC stipulations
A point of pride for Savannah State University over the past year has been its acceptance into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
When Cheryl Dozier arrived as interim president on May 9, she found that acceptance in jeopardy. Reports had been written but not implemented, and she wasn’t sure where she and the university stood.
So she turned to former University of Georgia athletics director Damon Evans to find answers.
“I knew that I needed to move us forward in the MEAC, and I decided to hire a consultant,” Dozier said. “I knew he had been doing some consulting at institutions. I gave him a call, and he said he would be willing to do that. I can’t think of a more professional and knowledgeable person that I know who would be able to do a better job than Damon Evans.”
In the beginning
Savannah State had tried for a number of years to gain membership in the MEAC, and that came to fruition on March 10, 2010, when the conference extended a provisional membership beginning July 1, 2010.
When MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas attended the school’s “MEAC Celebration” on March 24, 2010, at Tiger Arena, he said the Tigers must be in compliance with three stipulations — athletic budget, student-athlete scholarships and staffing — by Sept. 1, 2011, before full membership would be granted.
Thomas refused, however, to provide details about the three stipulations but had provided details to Savannah State in a letter dated March 9, 2010. Efforts to contact Thomas last week were unsuccessful. MEAC spokeswoman Patricia Porter said he was traveling and unavailable for an interview.
Dozier’s role in the process began when she was picked to head Savannah State on an interim basis after former president Earl Yarbrough’s contract was not renewed by the State Board of Regents. Dozier had been the associate provost and chief diversity officer at the University of Georgia.
Soon after Dozier’s arrival, she said, she found a 100-page report that Yarbrough left behind. With the MEAC’s deadline approaching, Dozier hired Evans, who works for the Markley Group, a Boston-based marketing firm, to assess the situation.
Savannah State will pay Evans $21,000 for three months from June 1 until Aug. 31 to “provide programmatic and technical assistance to the Athletic Department and provide consultation on the Institution’s provisional membership status in the MEAC,” according to a contract signed by Dozier and Evans (Sports Solutions LLC) on June 1.
Evans’ name most recently had surfaced when he resigned from the University of Georgia on July 5, 2010, four days after the Georgia State Patrol arrested him on a DUI charge in Atlanta. He pleaded guilty to DUI and was sentenced to a year of probation, a $750 fine and community service.
Wading through the paperwork
Dozier said she sent Evans a copy of the 100-page report Yarbrough left behind on May 23.
The report had not gone beyond Yarbrough, she said.
“So that was when I was real clear that I need someone to read this report and review it and say, ‘Where am I?’ And that was the first thing I sent to Damon Evans,” Dozier said.
Evans responded with an email the next day in which he said Savannah State didn’t need his help to do a similar report but wrote that he could help with putting the report into action.
“Where I believe (I) can help you is putting the report into action. More specifically, developing the appropriate plans and procedures,” Evans wrote.
“If what is in the report is true, there appears to be quite a bit of work that needs to be done. As you know, having a report done but no action behind it is useless.”
Evans also said he could help with Savannah State’s membership status as it relates to the MEAC.
“Finally, I know that having the right personnel and/or leadership in place is key,” he wrote. “I would be more than (happy) to work with you in this area as well.”
Dozier said she then invited Evans to visit the campus. He arrived June 21 and met with several administrators in and out of the athletics department.
On July 6, Dozier fired athletics director Marilynn Suggs after Suggs had been on the job less than seven months. Dozier said she had decided to make a “change in leadership in the athletics department.”
Men’s basketball coach Horace Broadnax was named interim athletics director, and Dozier said a national search would begin to find a permanent director. Suggs has since been reassigned to the department of student affairs, Dozier said.
MEAC membership in danger
On May 25, in an email to Dozier, Evans referred to a second letter from MEAC officials dated April 7, 2011.
“It appears as of the date of the letter that Savannah State has a lot to do to meet the 3 stipulations,” Evans wrote. “I am interested to learn of the current status regarding the MEAC’s requirements.
“It is clear that failure to meet any of the stipulations will lead to the conference rescinding its offer of membership. I need not tell you how critical it is to have the AD provide information asap.”
On May 27, Dozier attended a meeting of the MEAC’s Council of Chief Executive Officers in Norfolk, Va., and gave an update on SSU’s progress toward meeting the MEAC criteria for full conference membership.
After attending the meeting, Dozier said, she decided to hire Evans.
After Evans’ visit on June 21, he sent emails to Dozier; university counsel Joe Steffen; vice president for student affairs Irvin Clark; athletics business manager/Senior Woman Administrator Selena Warner; and assistant athletics director for compliance Shed Dawson, thanking them for meeting with him.
Dozier said Evans has helped her understand what she’s doing in relation to the athletics program.
“When I get those letters, I need to be sure of ‘How do I respond? How do I stay out of getting violations? What does a violation mean when we get it? Who do I need to kind of reprimand or whatever I need to do to say get this in order?’” Dozier said. “I needed that kind of counsel, and I don’t think I could have gotten a better person to help me with that. He’s been phenomenal.”
Attempts to reach Evans were unsuccessful. On Thursday, a call to the phone number listed in his consulting contract went unanswered. A receptionist at the Markley Group said Evans was unavailable to talk.
Fulfilling MEAC requirements
Savannah State has been working to increase its athletics budget, which was about $2.7 million on March 10, 2010. Dozier said the MEAC requires SSU’s athletics budget to be $8 million.
“The budget side we have met, primarily, and I’m being real honest, to include our capital investment, what we’re paying for the renovations of the brand new (football) stadium, what we’re paying for all of the athletic capital investments as part of meeting the financial requirements,” Dozier said. “(The football stadium) and the baseball (field) and all of that takes us over $8 million. I think it came out this year to be over $10 million that we have invested in athletics. We’re at over $10 million with all of the capital investments.”
She said the university also has increased its student-athlete scholarships and staffing to meet MEAC requirements. Broadnax said coaches in SSU’s major sports will focus exclusively on their coaching jobs. In the past, coaches worked in other departments on campus or served as dormitory supervisors.
Dozier said SSU has sent a draft response to the MEAC’s letter, and Thomas visited the campus on June 17.
“We’re going to submit our final response by the first of August, and we feel that we’ve met all of their criteria, so it’s for them to judge,” Dozier said.
“Savannah State is ready to move into full membership in the MEAC. I have no doubt that we are ready to move into full membership.”
SSU reports NCAA violation
Savannah State University sent a self-report to the NCAA and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference about a June 13 infraction made by new football head coach Steve Davenport. SSU also sent a copy of compliance director Shed Dawon’s Letter of Admonishment to Davenport.
In Dawson’s letter, which was obtained by the Savannah Morning News through an open records request, he wrote to Davenport, “After careful review of the football program it is determined that Athletics Department policy, procedures and training was not adhered to, resulting in an NCAA infraction and the offer of athletics grant & aid to two prospective student-athletes who were not updated on the football IRL (Institutional Request List) and currently do not meet the minimum NCAA guidelines for eligibility.
“A self-report regarding the infraction (13.9.1(b)) and a copy of the required Letter of Admonishment (attached) were forwarded to the conference office. This review will conclude upon the completion of the required actions in the letter (pending any sanctions imposed by the MEAC).”
By Noell Barnidge, Savannah Morning News