Bowing to withering public criticism over its attempt to prevent standout women's basketball player Daisha Simmons from playing for Seton Hall this season, Alabama has changed its stance.
Athletic director Bill Battle released a statement Tuesday night saying it now supports Simmons' request for a waiver from the NCAA allowing her to be eligible to play for the Pirates this season. It's now up to the NCAA whether it will grant Simmons' request.
"Much of the University's original decision not to endorse a waiver was based on the fact that Miss Simmons declined to provide any information supporting her reasoning for seeking a waiver," Battle said. "This was despite requests to obtain documentation verifying hardship to support a waiver request. Miss Simmons was told repeatedly of the requirements needed to obtain the waiver, as well as how such requirements were needed to justify the institution's endorsement of such a waiver. She refused to provide this, despite several opportunities and requests to do so."
Simmons completed her undergraduate degree at Alabama this past spring and decided in late May to transfer to Seton Hall so she could play her final season of college basketball closer to her New Jersey home. She told the Asbury Park Press last week that her motivation for leaving Alabama stemmed from not getting into the MBA program she wanted to pursue and wanting to be closer to her older brother, who has end-stage renal disease and requires kidney dialysis several times per week.
Whereas most graduate transfers are automatically eligible to play immediately for their new school as long as they enter a graduate program unavailable at their previous institution, NCAA rules dictate that Simmons had to request a waiver because Seton Hall is her third school, not her second. Simmons told SwishAppeal.com earlier this week that Alabama was fully aware of her family's medical issues when coach Kristy Curry refused to sign the waiver.
"I've been hearing that Associate Athletic Director Shane Lyons and individuals at UA have been telling reporters and others in private that I did not inform them specifically on my family issues," Simmons said in a statement to Swish Appeal. "This is 100% false and it is unfortunate to be in a predicament where I have to prove that I did in fact tell the committee board at UA what my family issues were during the time I was asking for my release.
"Although I am not particular happy with having to prove I am telling the truth, my family and I will not stand for people telling lies about me. It is unfortunate that this situation has escalated to this point, all I wanted to do was to be able to move on with my life."
The fight between Simmons and Alabama led to a torrent of negative publicity for the Crimson Tide. College basketball luminaries from Jay Bilas, to Fran Fraschilla, to Dick Vitale have each ripped Alabama for putting its own interest above the happiness of one of its former student-athletes.
Battle initially told the Asbury Park Press last week he supported not signing off on Simmons' waiver request because the timing of her transfer "left little or no time for the women’s basketball team to make alternate plans to replace her." Alabama president Judy Bonner rejected a request to revisit the matter on Monday, saying she considers the matter "closed."
It's good that Alabama drew enough criticism for its stance to reconsider, but it's still alarming how often situations like this are happening.
Wisconsin endured a spate of negative publicity in 2012 after preventing promising freshman forward Jarrod Uthoff from reaching out to Marquette, Iowa State and every school in the Big Ten and ACC. Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli became talk show fodder the previous winter for refusing to sign the paperwork needed to allow transfer Todd O'Brien to play at Alabama-Birmingham. And earlier this year, Kansas State declined star guard Leticia Romero's transfer request for weeks before finally conceding to withering national criticism and allowing her to leave.
Perhaps the attention these transfer sagas have received will highlight the need for reform.
Coaches don't require the permission of their former players to leave for a new job. Why should a transfer be required to seek his or her former coach's permission to leave for the school of his or her choice?
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