Starting center Festus Ezeli has been suspended for Vanderbilt's first six games for accepting a meal and hotel room from a university alum, which is a violation of NCAA rules.
An internal compliance review by the school uncovered the violation and self-reported the incident to the Southeastern Conference and NCAA at the beginning of August. The NCAA finalized the ruling on Monday.
Ezeli won’t be eligible until the Commodores' Nov. 28 home game against Xavier.
“I am very sorry and would never want to jeopardize my college career over such a petty thing as a meal or a hotel room,” Ezeli said in a statement released by the school. “I would have been able to afford those things myself. I have always tried to do the right thing; I should have known better and am embarrassed that my mistake could affect my team.”
The incident occurred this summer on a trip Ezeli took while visiting friends. He encountered a Vanderbilt alum, who provided Ezeli with the improper benefits. The NCAA prohibits any benefit extended to a student-athlete that is not readily extended to all students by boosters of the school’s athletic program.
"Festus Ezeli is a good, honest student-athlete that accepted an act of kindness from a Vanderbilt alum and now faces the consequences," Vice Chancellor of Athletics David Williams said. "We have a very good compliance education process in place, and this incident shows how easily someone can fall astray, even with the best intentions. We discovered this matter, reported it promptly and cooperated fully with the NCAA and its process and will abide by its conclusion."
Ezeli returned for his senior year after passing on entering the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-11, 255-pounder from Nigeria averaged 13 points and 6.3 rebounds last year.
He will miss the team’s season opener against Oregon on Nov. 11. He will also be absent for home games against Cleveland State (Nov. 13) and Bucknell (Nov. 15) and two games of the championship round of the TicketCity Legends Classic in New Jersey. That includes a Nov. 19 matchup against North Carolina State and a Nov. 21 game against either Texas or Oregon State.
His suspension concludes after a Nov. 25 home game against Monmouth, which is coached by former Vanderbilt assistant King Rice.
Ezeli will be allowed to play in Vanderbilt’s exhibition game against NAIA opponent Xavier (La.) on Nov. 7.
"All of us are disappointed, especially Festus," coach Kevin Stallings said. "He is always striving to do the right thing and cares a lot about the university, our program and certainly his teammates. He is allowed to practice and play in our exhibition game and we look forward to his return Nov. 28. Neither Festus nor I will be making any further comments on this matter and will direct all questions to Vice Chancellor David Williams."