Maori Davenport will play after judge rules in her favor on eligibility controversy

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Maori Davenport, right, had been ruled ineligible by the Alabama High School Athletic Association. (AP)
Maori Davenport, right, had been ruled ineligible by the Alabama High School Athletic Association. (AP)

Maori Davenport, the Alabama high school basketball star at the center of an eligibility controversy, will be able to play Friday night after a judge granted an emergency motion.

Ben Stanfield at WDHN was one of the first to report the news:

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Davenport, a 6-foot-4 senior and Rutgers’ signee, was ruled ineligible by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) after she accepted a check from USA Basketball that was sent in error. Her story made national news and earned the ears of professional athletes as well as the state legislators, who asked for her reinstatement.

Davenport’s reigning state champion Charles Henderson team plays against Carroll at 5:30 p.m. She is a favorite for the state’s Miss Basketball honor and espnW has her ranked No. 15 in the nation in the 2019 class.

Hearing expedited Friday morning

When ESPN first reported Davenport’s story, her parents, Mario and Tara, said they were considering suing. The family took that step this week, according to AL.com, and asked that the AHSAA’s suspension be invalidated.

AL.com first reported the lawsuit Friday around 10 a.m. According to the story, it asked for an expedited hearing though no hearing date had been set.

Approximately 90 minutes later news broke that Pike County Circuit Judge Sonny Reagan ruled in Davenport’s favor and she would immediately be eligible to play “pending a hearing in Reagan’s courtroom.”

Davenport family calls punishment arbitrary

The AHSAA ruled Davenport ineligible under its “amateur rule,” which allows for only one punishment if players take anything more than $250. The check USA Basketball sent was for $857.20 after Davenport was one of three high school players to compete for Team USA and win the FIBA Americas U18 tournament in Mexico City.

It sends out stipends for players with no high school eligibility left, but overlooked three players who were still in school in a rare clerical error.

When the organization realized its error, it immediately contacted those involved and stressed that it was the organization’s mistake. Davenport returned the money after learning she wasn’t supposed to take it, but the AHSAA ruled her ineligible in November and two appeals held up the ruling.

“The rule that Maori was disqualified under is not only arbitrary in its application to Maori, but arbitrary on its face,” reads the lawsuit, obtained by AL.com. “It allows for no distinction for an innocent mistake … it further allows only one punishment, whether the dollar amount involved is millions of dollars or $250, a player is disqualified for a year, and if the defendants’ public pronouncement are to be believed, there is no ability to make a distinction.”

AHSAA stresses rules, lessons

The public pronouncements the Davenport family is likely referring to include those made by AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese to Jay Bilas for an ESPN piece not long after the site broke the initial news.

Savarese told Bilas that rulings are made without being “arbitrary or capricious” and that he is the “absolute authority in these cases,” though he had never seen one like Davenport’s.

He told Bilas:

My charge is to uphold the rules. What if I said ‘no’? What if I let her play? If I make an exception to one rule, it opens up a Pandora’s box on all of our rules. How could I enforce any rule? If I made an exception here, I would be arbitrary and capricious.”

Savarese is big on lessons as an educator of 44 years and answered Bilas’ question about what lesson is to be learned here by citing the parents and USA Basketball. He did not mention anything Davenport herself could take away from it.

“The lesson to be learned here is for the adults that have the responsibility to inform the student-athlete of the rules. It is the responsibility of other parties, school officials, USA Basketball who only had to make a phone call, and her mom who is an assistant coach. She should know better. We work with outside agencies all the time. We work with Nike. All USA Basketball had to do was make a phone call.”

The AHSAA gave a statement to AL.com on the news of the lawsuit.

“We’re aware of the litigation and in discussions to formulate an appropriate response,” AHSAA spokesman Ron Ingram said. 

The lawsuit can be read in full here:

Davenport vs. AHSAA lawsuit by on Scribd

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