Columbia University’s athletics department announced Wednesday that senior defensive lineman Matt Stary, who has played in every game for the Lions this year, has been declared ineligible to play. The news came just three days after the Lions beat Yale, 28-14, for their first three game winning streak since 1998.
The infraction could result in Columbia’s having to forfeit the two wins it has earned this season.
Stary, who redshirted for medical reasons his freshman year, is a fifth-year senior who decided to enroll for an extra semester so that he could exercise his remaining eligibility.
He said he thought he needed to enroll in only three classes (nine credits) this semester in order to be eligible, but when reviewing his transcript online Tuesday, he realized he was mistaken. It is too late in the semester to add credits.
“The first thing I thought of was ‘Oh my God! I hope we don’t have to forfeit the games.’ That is just not fair for the team,” Stary said. “I never intended for this to happen.”
NCAA and Ivy League rules require a student to be enrolled in enough credits to graduate or enough to be considered a full-time student. Stary said he thought nine credits, not enough to be considered a full-time student at Columbia, was enough for him to graduate this January.
Stary said the school’s registration system is supposed to flag student-athletes who are not enrolled in enough classes to be eligible to play, but “apparently there was a glitch somewhere in the system.”
In a statement made Wednesday, Dr. John Reeves, Columbia’s athletics director, said the school would investigate why the system failed to detect Stary’s error.
“We will provide complete information to the Ivy League office, and we will await proper disposition of the case,” Reeves said.
Carolyn Campbell-McGovern, senior associate director with the Ivy League, said she could not comment specifically on Stary’s situation because Columbia had not yet provided the league with precise information.
In the case of a minimal violation, the circumstances are reviewed by league personnel, Campbell-McGovern said. If, though, the situation was potentially more serious, it could go before a committee made up of administrators from all eight Ivy schools.
“The normal process is that the institution would suggest the punishment, and if the league thought that it was harsh enough, it would stand,” Campbell-McGovern said.
The last instance involving an ineligible player in Ivy League football occurred in 1997, when University of Pennsylvania defensive tackle Mitch Marrow, also a fifth-year senior, was not originally enrolled as a full-time student.
In the Marrow case, the discrepancy was not made public until after the football season in a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Pennsylvania subsequently forfeited its five wins.
“Columbia coming forward at this time was exemplary,” Yale Athletics Director Tom Beckett said. “You certainly feel badly for their program and their kids.”
Campbell-McGovern said precedent does play a role in determining the punishment a school could face, so forfeiture of Columbia’s two wins this season (versus Dartmouth and Yale) is a possibility.
In the Penn case, the Ivy League decided to grant wins to the five schools the Quakers beat while Marrow played. Yale was one of those five schools, but Associate Athletics Director Steve Conn, citing an NCAA regulation, said Yale does not recognize the game as a win. Ivy League records say Yale had a 2-8 record in 1997, but Yale’s own media guide gives the Elis a 1-9 mark.
Brett Hoover, assistant director of the Ivy League, said the league would have to determine whether to give Yale and Dartmouth victories if Columbia were to forfeit its games.
Under that scenario, the Elis, now mathematically eliminated from the Ivy title chase, would go from 1-3 to 2-2 in league play and technically still have a shot at the title.
Stary said he would finish the semester at Columbia and will get the credits needed, either at Columbia or elsewhere, to earn his degree.