OKC Thunder fan may have to give away $20,000 halfcourt shot prize due to NAIA rules

Eric Freeman

Sometimes a prize can be a hassle. Last week, the Oklahoma City Thunder paid out two $20,000 prizes to fans for hitting halfcourt shots, continuing a stunning run of form in which participants made the basket in five of 22 games stretching back to last spring. The first of that duo, Cameron Rodriguez, nailed his shot on November 18 against the Denver Nuggets and proceeded to tackle mascot Rumble the Bison, go crazy, and chase that feeling on social media for quite some time. He was clearly very excited.

Unfortunately, Rodriguez now faces the possibility of losing his $20,000 prize due to NAIA rules. As a student and basketball player at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, Rodriguez is not allowed to profit off his athletic ability. Given the circumstances, he's now trying to figure out his money and maintain his eligibility. From Eben Novy-Williams for Bloomberg News:

Now [Rodriguez] and his school are asking the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for a rules exception that would allow him to use the money as a scholarship to help pay his tuition. [...]

The NAIA student guide says athletes cannot use their sports ability or fame for financial reward. John Leavens, the executive director of the NAIA Eligibility Center, said rulings on these cases typically take one to two weeks.

“It would certainly hurt his cause if he had tried to circumvent the rules,” Leavens said in a telephone interview. “The fact that he connected with the right officials to make sure that he understood the proper application of the rule is something that we expect, and we’re glad to see.” [...]

Every one of Southwestern College’s 1,700 students receives financial aid through institutional grants to help with the $23,000 annual tuition, according to Brenda Hicks, the school’s director of financial aid. Rodriguez, who is on a $4,000 athletic scholarship, said he pays roughly $33,000 per year when he adds room, board, books and other fees.

If the NAIA says he can’t use the money as a scholarship, Rodriguez said, MidFirst Bank offered to donate it to a charity in his name. Rodriguez said he probably would choose between a non-profit set up to help the Southwestern basketball program, or a group through the Thunder’s work with local children -- “a thank you for the opportunity and the experience,” he said.

It's great to see that Rodriguez is looking to help people regardless of the outcome of the NAIA's decision, but here's hoping he's successful. While the NAIA is considerably smaller than the NCAA and doesn't feature the same thorny ethical questions of barring players from earning money while simultaneously bringing in huge amounts of income, there doesn't seem anything incredibly wrong with a person earning a small scholarship using a prize to pay for his tuition and related costs. Then again, I don't run a massive organization in which one decision threatens to create a new precedent for all.

We wish Rodriguez good luck as we works things out with the NAIA. At any rate, it's nice to know he appreciates the experience, no matter the resolution.

- - - - - - -

Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Stay connected with Ball Don't Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL and "Like" BDL on Facebook for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.