NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli has been suspended for the Commodores first six games in November, the university announced on Monday. The suspension is a result of a improper benefit the senior received this summer from a Vanderbilt alumnus.
According to the press release, Ezeli had a chance meeting with a unidentified alumnus on a weekend visit with friends. During the encounter Ezeli accepted a meal and hotel room from the Vanderbilt graduate. Vanderbilt's compliance office uncovered the meeting while conducting an internal review and reported the encounter to the Southeastern Conference and NCAA in early August. The ruling was finalized by the NCAA on Monday.
"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 the school's release. "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."
Ezeli will be allowed to practice with the team and even participate in the Commodores exhibition game at Memorial Gym against Xavier (La.) on November 7th. He will then miss the Commodores next 21 days of game action, which will include home dates against Oregon on November 11th, Cleveland State on November 13th, Bucknell on November 15th and Monmouth on November 25th. He'll also be forced to miss the Commodores trip to East Rutherford, New Jersey for the two-game Legends Class event against North Carolina State on November 19th and either Texas or Oregon State on November 21st.
Ezeli will be allowed to return to action on November 28th when Atlantic 10 conference contender Xavier comes to Memorial Gym.
"All of us are disappointed, especially Festus," Coach Kevin Stallings said on Monday. "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."
"Festus Ezeli is a good, honest student-athlete that accepted an act of kindness from a Vanderbilt alum and now faces the consequences," 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."
A second team All-SEC selection last season, Ezeli set a school record for block shots as a junior. Considered one of the best true centers in the nation, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Nigerian is a potential All-American candidate this season and will be a integral part of Vanderbilt's attempt to capture a Southeastern Conference championship this winter.
Senior Steve Tchiengang and redshirt freshman Josh Henderson will likely rotate time at center during Ezeli's absence. The 6-foot-9 Tchiengang averaged 4.8 points and three rebounds as a reserve at forward and center last season. Henderson redshirted last season in order to gain more size. The Virginia native was expected to be a key role player this season even before Ezeli's suspension.