Hardship waivers too tough for NCAA

It's impossible for the organization to decide levels of need in face of suffering

Originally Published: September 6, 2013
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

A lot of oxygen has been spent in the past year wondering just where the NCAA fits in the world as it's currently constructed. The ozone could blow trying to settle that debate.

Here's where it doesn't belong: trying to decide levels of misery, who is and isn't legitimately sick, and which family members matter to an individual and which do not.

In November, an NCAA subcommittee tried to tinker yet again with its hardship waiver rule, offering up new guidelines to explain the process better.

It said that consideration would be given only to immediate family members -- parents, siblings, children or legal guardians -- and that a school would have to present medical documentation of a "debilitating injury or illness to a student-athlete's immediate family member that is debilitating and requires ongoing medical care. The previous standard had been life-threatening."

It's just too impossible, too messy to ask a bureaucratic, paper-pushing organization to play God. It's not their place. It's no one's place, frankly. Hardship and illness, even the concept of family, are deeply personal definitions.

So what about the aunt, uncle or neighbor raised in the same house who is "like a sister or a brother?" What constitutes debilitating? Cancer or only late-stage cancer? Dialysis or flat-out kidney failure?

It's just too impossible, too messy to ask a bureaucratic, paper-pushing organization to play God. It's not their place. It's no one's place, frankly. Hardship and illness, even the concept of family, are deeply personal definitions.

And the easiest way for the NCAA to remove itself from a situation that has become uncomfortably sticky is to stop allowing any athlete to play immediately because of hardship.

Allow them to transfer. Allow them to receive a scholarship from their new team. Allow them to practice if there is time in the day -- but no games, no travel.

Instead let them focus on the reason they wanted to come home in the first place -- their ailing family member.

That gets the NCAA out of the business of weighing misfortunes and, without the benefit of immediate playing time, it ought to weed out the less-than-sincere requests.

The lone caveat -- if an athlete already has redshirted and transfers because of a family emergency, grant him an automatic sixth year of eligibility. Let that be the waiver.

As for the recent spate of athletes who transfer with one year of eligibility left because their current school is out of the postseason, get rid of that altogether.

That isn't hardship. That's just crummy luck.

A hardship has to be legitimate, not merely opportunistic.

If a kid has graduated, fine. Reward him for a job well done, for actually realizing that quaint goal of going to college for free and getting your degree.

Otherwise, stay put.

It's really not terribly complicated, which is probably why the NCAA has made it so convoluted.

But unlike the other messes laid at the door of the folks in Indianapolis, this one is easily remedied.

It's about knowing your place and when it comes to determining hardship, you don't belong, NCAA.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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