Even for an organization known for sometimes making tone-deaf decisions, the NCAA has outdone itself once again.
It has reportedly denied immediate eligibility to a decorated U.S. Army veteran because of a 2011 high school transcript that no longer accurately reflects the caliber of student he is.
Isaiah Brock is a Baltimore native who enlisted in the military in 2012 because he believed it was his best means of escaping his hardscrabble neighborhood. He served four years in the Army including six-month stints in Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe told the Detroit Free Press and CBSSports.com that he first met Brock at a charitable event in Kuwait connecting soldiers with basketball coaches. While Kampe wasn’t sure that Brock would ever develop into an impact player at Oakland, he offered the 6-foot-8 forward a spot on his team anyway in hopes that his life experience would make him a valuable locker room presence.
Oakland admitted Brock after he got a qualifying ACT score. He earned As and Bs in online courses he took while still enlisted and in a pair of summer courses he took at Oakland. Everyone was optimistic he’d receive a waiver making him eligible to play for the Golden Grizzlies this season, but the NCAA eligibility center denied his request, citing his inadequate high school GPA.
“I thought they would be more lenient — not show me sympathy, but review my service,” Brock told the Detroit Free Press. “I understand you’ve got to look back on the grades and all that, but that was five years ago. Of course you’re going to be a changed person. … But clearly, I wasn’t worthy.”
The uncompromising ruling by the NCAA reflects one of its most glaring problems. Too often initial decisions are made based on strict interpretations of the rulebook even if they fly in the face of common sense, a habit that often results in a hail of criticism once the rulings become public.
Remember Nathan Harries, the Colgate basketball player who initially lost a year of eligibility for playing in three church-league games between graduating high school and enrolling in college? Or Steven Rhodes, the Middle Tennessee football player initially denied eligibility because he played in a few recreational games after high school while serving in the Marines?
The NCAA eventually reversed both those rulings on appeal amid heavy public pressure. Oakland is hoping its appeal of the Brock ruling will have a similar outcome, which is why it was smart of school officials to apply pressure in advance by sharing Brock’s story with the Free Press and CBSSports.com.
Even if Oakland wins its appeal and Brock is declared eligible this season, it’s hard to cite it as an example of the system working.
Someone at the NCAA eligibility center should be PR-savvy enough to recognize the potential fallout from ruling a decorated army veteran ineligible over a five-year-old high school transcript. Then administrators need to give staffers the flexibility to make a logical decision rather than always following a strict interpretation of the rules.
Or if the eligibility center is always going to rely on simple math and leave it to the appeals committee to apply common sense, the NCAA should still be flagging cases like this one and getting out in front of the ensuing media firestorm. Why not release a statement beforehand acknowledging the injustice and pledging to expedite the appeals process to correct it?
Of course being proactive is not typically the NCAA way, which is why Brock is in the headlines today.
Hopefully his story has a happy ending. And hopefully the NCAA favors logic over rigidity more often in the future.
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