NAIA officials allow Thunder fan to keep $20,000 prize from halfcourt shot contest

On November 18, young Oklahoma City Thunder fan Cameron Rodriguez lived out every NBA attendee's dream when he hit a halfcourt shot for a $20,000 prize during the team's game against the Denver Nuggets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. A college student, Rodriguez came into a considerable amount of money to help him pay for his schooling and got to experience the joy of having an entire professional arena cheer his accomplishment. It's harder to imagine a young man having more fun.

Unfortunately for Rodriguez, that fun soon gave way to the reality of his situation as an NAIA athlete. As a member of the basketball team at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, Rodriguez is prohibited from using his athletic skills for monetary gain. Taking note of the conflict, Rodriguez immediately notified the relevant NAIA representatives and sought permission to keep his prize to pay for his tuition and academic expenses. He has been waiting to get official word on his status.

On Tuesday, Rodriguez received good news. As announced by the NAIA, he will be allowed to keep his prize. From the organization's press release:

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has announced that Cameron Rodriguez of Southwestern College (Kan.) will be allowed to retain his winnings from a half-court shot during a National Basketball Association (NBA) halftime promotion. The NAIA’s National Eligibility Committee (NEC), which consists of representatives from various schools and conferences, was the decision making body for Southwestern College’s request for an exceptional ruling to a standard rule.

The decision to use the money as a scholarship was a joint recommendation by Rodriguez and the Southwestern College athletic department, which was supported by the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.

“We’re pleased with the decision from the membership and specifically the NEC that allows Cameron to keep his winnings to use towards his education,” said Jim Carr, NAIA President and CEO. “We feel the NAIA is the student-centered association in collegiate athletics, and this decision by our membership reflects that emphasis.” [...]

Rodriguez will have to maintain his amateur status throughout the remainder of his eligibility. The NAIA defines amateurism as a student who engages in athletic contests for educational values, personal pleasure, satisfaction, and for the love of the sport, not for monetary or material gain.

Based on that definition of amateurism and Rodriguez's intention to use the money as a scholarship, it appears as if he's in keeping with the spirit of the NAIA. Nevertheless, this decision did require some flexibility, and it's nice that all involved parties were willing to work towards a solution. It's a nice reminder that, in a world where NCAA violations sometimes seem arbitrary, a governing body and the athletes it oversees can find common ground.

Rodriguez is clearly excited by the decision, as proven by many retweets on his Twitter feed and this message of thanks:

Congratulations to Rodriguez for the positive resolution. Here's hoping that, with the logistical issues behind him, he can focus on the great memories of his moment of triumph. And, you know, all that money, too.

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

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