Keeping Score

Today In NCAA Injustice: A Grieving Player Is Benched

Two family members dying in two months didn't strike the NCAA as hardship

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The NCAA is at it again — this time they’ve gone and benched a grieving player. And this one’s a doozy, even for an organization seemingly blind to the most basic optics.

Under NCAA rules, if you’re an athlete who transfers from one school another, you have to sit out a year (never mind that coaches regularly hop between multimillion-dollar jobs without a break). But athletes can apply for a “hardship” waiver to this rule. Bronx native Kerwin Okoro lost his father and brother last season in the span of just two months. His dad died of a stroke in December, and then his brother died of colon cancer. Okoro decided to transfer from Iowa State, where he played basketball, to Rutgers, in order to be closer to home.

To avoid having to sit out a year, Okoro applied for a hardship waiver. And losing two immediately family members in two months sure would seem to define hardship. But as the New York Post and Newark Star-Ledger reported, the NCAA denied the waiver, likely because the hardship rules apparently just apply to sick family members. Not those who pass away.  Okoro tweeted:

Not a single person would complain if the NCAA let Okoro play right away. Or if Donte Hill, a guard for Old Dominion University, could just close out his college career. The NCAA has ruled that Hill used up an entire year of eligibility because he played eight minutes during a scrimmage while he was a sophomore at Clemson University, back in 2011. Playing days over, because of eight measly minutes in a game that didn’t count for anything.

The NCAA keeps making these kinds of mind-boggling decisions. Let’s just take the last three weeks. First, the Johnny Football affair: News broke that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Heisman trophy winner who, according to one study, was worth $37 million in publicity value to his school last season, allegedly signed autographs for money. He’s the subject an NCAA investigation, and possible discipline. This news shined a brighter light than ever on the fundamental flaw of major college athletics: The revenue sports, football and men’s basketball, are swimming in cash, while stars like Manziel don’t see a sliver.

(MORE: Johnny Manziel Could Change The NFL’s Age-Limit Rule)

To make things worse for the NCAA, ESPN commentator Jay Bilas, a former Duke hoops player and vocal critic of the organization, showed that even though the NCAA is not supposed to sell jerseys with a player’s name on it, when you typed “Manziel” into a search function on ShopNCAAsports.com, guess what jersey appeared on the screen, available for up to $64.95? A No. 2 Texas A&M shirt. Manziel’s No. 2.  After Bilas’ critique went viral, the NCAA temporarily shut down the site, saying it would no longer sell college and university merchandise on its online shop, but “NCAA championship merchandise only.”

Then, there’s the Marine. The NCAA had initially ruled Steven Rhodes — a Marine sergeant who finished five years of active service this summer, and a walk-on football player at Middle Tennessee State University — ineligible this season because he played in a military-only recreational football league for parts of two years. For some reason, that’s against the rules. After yet another public backlash, the NCAA reversed course again; a military vet will immediately be able to pursue his football dream.

While it would be nice if the NCAA’s arcane rules didn’t create such messes, at least it’s cleaning up some mistakes. Let’s hope that habit continues for Okoro and Hill.

(MORE: NCAA Faces Legal Challenges Over Health And Compensation Policies)

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