The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy has reinstated its men’s soccer program, with off-season games starting as early as this spring, even as a federal investigation continues into allegations of sexual misconduct on a team bus in fall 2016.
The team, which plays in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Skyline Conference, did not compete in the fall 2017 season because of the investigation into allegations that seven players had assaulted a freshman player in September 2016.
“The United States Merchant Marine Academy leadership announced today, that they will reinstate the Men’s Soccer Team for the spring 2018 NCAA nontraditional season. The Academy has notified the Skyline Conference that the Academy intends to declare with the NCAA to sponsor Men’s Soccer for the 2018 fall season and resume a full Skyline Conference schedule,” according to a statement posted Feb. 14 on the website of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation and shared on social media by the academy’s national parents’ association.
A spokeswoman with the U.S. Maritime Administration confirmed the team will play in the spring. MARAD is an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation that operates the 75-year-old federal service academy.
Generally speaking, all a school would need to do to reinstate a program in Division III is list the sport on the school’s demographics and sponsorship paperwork, which is submitted annually, an NCAA spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, the seven seniors at the center of the federal probe have since graduated. The investigation conducted by the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General is pending and has been referred to prosecutors at the U.S. Department of Justice, officials have said.
Before graduating from the Kings Point academy, the former soccer players faced allegations of misconduct, bullying, coercion and retaliation stemming from the September 2016 incident that occurred in the back of the team bus.
Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said he recently inquired about the status of the investigation. Suozzi, who is a member of the USMMA Board of Visitors, a congressional oversight panel, said he believes “there’s a problem that the Merchant Marine Academy administration doesn’t know where the investigation stands and it’s caught up in some bureaucracy black hole.”
“It’s unacceptable that it’s going on this long and we don’t know where it stands,” Suozzi said.
The school trains students, called midshipmen, to serve on U.S.-flagged cargo ships and for work in the commercial shipping industry. Graduates also are eligible for an officer’s commission in the U.S. armed services.
Last June, USMMA Superintendent Rear Adm. James A. Helis placed seven seniors who were on the 2016-17 soccer team on deferred graduate status days before their commencement. Helis also suspended the soccer program pending the outcome of the inspector general’s investigation.
The seven students sued the school in federal court, claiming they had been denied due process. A federal judge granted them permission to participate in the June 17 ceremony on the Kings Point campus, but their bachelor’s degrees, certificates and U.S. Coast Guard licenses were withheld.
The midshipmen were granted their degrees and licenses after each participated in individual, closed executive board hearings at the academy and completed an assignment, Newsday confirmed in November.
That federal court case also remains open.