NCAA Suspends Illinois Star for Selling Gear Pre-NIL

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The NCAA has suspended University of Illinois junior center Kofi Cockburn, a returning Consensus All-American and the Big Ten’s preseason Player of the Year, for the first three games of the basketball season after Cockburn sold his Illini team-issue gear on a website.

As reported by Sports Illustrated, Cockburn was expected remain in the NBA draft at the time he sold the gear on The Players Trunk in June, well before the July 1 effective date for new NCAA rules regarding athletes' ability to profit from their name, image and likeness.

The Illini will be heavily favored to knock off Jackson State and Arkansas State at home even without Cockburn, but losing him for the toughest road test of the non-conference schedule at Marquette could have significant ramifications, SI reported. The first game in which he will be eligible to play is Nov. 22 against Cincinnati. 

“We are disappointed with the three-game suspension, because there were unprecedented factors and altered timelines related to his decision to ultimately withdraw from the NBA draft and return to school,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said in a statement. “Once Kofi had a full understanding of where he stood regarding the draft, he made an educated decision to return to school, work toward his degree, and continue improving his game. That said, we understand and respect the NCAA’s decision in this matter, and we will move forward accordingly. As always, Kofi’s attitude and outlook remain upbeat and positive. He is focused on helping his teammates prepare for the season, and we can’t wait to have him rejoin us on the court.”

According to SI, Cockburn participated in the NBA’s G League Elite Camp in June and, after receiving feedback, elected to withdraw from the draft and enter the transfer portal. After receiving interest from nearly every major program in the sport in July, Cockburn announced he would return to Illinois for his junior season after all, catapulting the Illini into the top 15 of the Associated Press preseason poll.

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