NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli has been suspended for the first six games of the season for accepting a meal and hotel room from an alumnus of the university.
School officials learned of the incident and self-reported the violation to the Southeastern Conference and NCAA in early August. The NCAA ruled Monday.
Ezeli was visiting friends on a trip this summer when he ran into the alumnus, who was not identified by Vanderbilt. Ezeli can practice with the team during his suspension before returning to play on Nov. 28 against Xavier, but he will miss the Commodores' games in the Legends Classic Finals in New Jersey against N.C. State on Nov. 19 and either Texas or Oregon State on Nov. 21.
"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 posted on the school's website. "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 Commodores are coming off an NCAA tournament berth with Ezeli joining John Jenkins, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer, and Jeffery Taylor among five returning starters. Vanderbilt is expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 25.
Coach Kevin Stallings said everyone was disappointed, especially Ezeli.
"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," Stallings said.
The coach directed any other questions to vice chancellor David Williams who called Ezeli an honest athlete who accepted an "act of kindness" from a Vanderbilt alum.
"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," Williams said. "We discovered this matter, reported it promptly and cooperated fully with the NCAA and its process and will abide by its conclusion."