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NCAA denies Kerwin Okoro’s hardship waiver despite the death of his brother and father

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

Almost three months before the 2013-14 college basketball season tips off, Rutgers is already dealing with a controversial call.

The Scarlet Knights reportedly lost the services of a key transfer due to a decision by the NCAA that has sparked outrage on social media.

Former Iowa State guard Kerwin Okoro did not receive a hardship waiver that would have allowed him to play immediately for Rutgers this season, the Newark Star-Ledger first reported Tuesday. Okoro, a Bronx native, announced he was transferring to Rutgers in May to be closer to his family after his father died in December from a stroke at age 72 and his brother died from colon cancer two months later at age 28.

Neither Rutgers nor Okoro released a statement confirming the report but the 6-foot-5 rising sophomore had this to say on Twitter on Tuesday: "I'll make the wise decision of staying off social networks today, [because] if I express my feelings right now, I might just say the wrong thing."

That the NCAA would deny Okoro's petition to play right away is surprising because the most common complaint in college basketball circles these days is that the organization has handed out hardship waivers like candy. Trey Zeigler received a waiver to play right away at Pittsburgh last season because his father had been fired as coach of his former school, so it seems absurd that the deaths of Okoro's father and brother aren't sufficient basis for his petition.

Why would the NCAA make this ruling? A spokeswoman for the organization did not immediately return an email seeking clarification, but the most plausible explanation might be the wording of the hardship waiver rule.

Current rules enable the NCAA to forgo the rule that requires transfers to sit out a year of competition if a family member is suffering from a "debilitating injury or illness" but they make no mention of a death in the family. Certainly it would have been wise for the NCAA to evaluate Okoro's case and determine that it was worth bending or rewording the rule to accommodate, but the organization isn't exactly known for seeing the bigger picture.

The NCAA endured a firestorm of criticism earlier this week when it initially denied a former Marine sergeant the right to play football this season at Middle Tennessee as a result of some intramural games he played during his military service. Even though the NCAA quickly reversed the decision within 48 hours of the news breaking, the PR nightmare could have easily been avoided had someone realized how the public would perceive a decision based on a strict interpretation of the rules.

This story likely won't inspire the same backlash as one involving a Marine sergeant but the principle is similar. Instead of making a common sense ruling that favors the student-athlete, the NCAA favored a strict interpretation of the rules at Okoro's expense.

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