Sean Kowal led Northern Illinois in rebounding as a junior this past season, and after recently graduating from the school, he left the team with the intention of attending another school to pursue a master's degree in theology since NIU doesn't offer the program.
The 6-foot-11 center also wants to use his senior year of eligibility to play on scholarship for his new school so as to offset the costs of obtaining the master's. Unfortunately for Kowal, NIU is refusing to release him from his scholarship to any of the unspecified schools he requested.
So Kowal is speaking out about the situation with his hometown news station, going on camera with KSDK-TV of St. Louis to explain his side of the story.
"After I realized I was going to graduate, I kind of thought about life after basketball. I'm not going to sacrifice my education for basketball. That's what they want me to do, and it's just not in my best interests. It's not what I think is going to help me out most in the future.
"I prefer to not have to spend the next 20, 25 years of my life paying off student loans. Most schools that offer theology, they're not cheap schools. Like an NCAA representative told me, NIU has me handcuffed. And like I said, 'Well for what reason?' And the only thing he could think of is vengeance."
Is it payback for tampering? Were the requested schools on NIU's schedule next season? Was it something Kowal did? We don't really know.
Kowal said he got along with coach Ricardo Patton and athletic director Jeff Compher, who declined to elaborate but offered this comment to the television station:
"I will say this decision was not made lightly, but I stand by our decision, and it was backed up by our university."
What we do know is that Kowal gave NIU two good seasons and that it was actually through the transfer process that he came to the school in the first place.
After playing for Colorado as a freshman under Patton, the coach brought Kowal over to NIU, and Kowal became the Huskies' third-leading scorer last season, averaging 10.5 points per game and a team-leading 6.4 rebounds. As a sophomore, he led the Mid-American Conference in field goal percentage.
Kowal's departure did leave NIU with depth issues and Patton disappointed, according to the Daily Chronicle.
"Sean's decision not to return for his senior season was definitely unexpected and we're disappointed he won't be back," NIU coach Ricardo Patton said in a statement. "Sean has been with my staff and me for four years, so it's tough to see him step away without finishing his playing career with us. We've always emphasized academics and graduation in our program, so it's good to see Sean will leave Northern Illinois with a degree in hand."
Kowal's situation bears similarities to Alabama refusing to release forward Justin Knox to play as a graduate student at UAB next season, with Knox ultimately gaining immediate eligibility to do so for North Carolina. In that case, Knox's uncle was upset enough to go to the Birmingham News with his complaints.
Now Kowal is fighting back through the media as well. Whether or not that will help him get on the court with his school of choice remains to be seen.