Doug Robinson: NCAA wrong again in case of BYU cross-country runner stripped of eligibility for costume race
Hoping the NCAA would change its mind, Ward resumed his running career immediately. He won three All-American certificates in track and one in cross country, but with the NCAA holding its position he has been forced to sit out the current season of cross country, his senior year. Even without Ward, BYU ranks fifth in the nation heading into the NCAA Cross Country Championships in two weeks. With Ward, they would have a realistic shot at a national championship.
It’s not as if Ward were seeking an extra year of eligibility (a fifth or sixth year), as many athletes do. He’s never even used a redshirt season. He’s a scholar-athlete who already is working on a master’s degree in statistics. He is a team captain at BYU. He’s married and has one child. You can see why the NCAA wouldn’t want a guy like this around.
“I’ve been coaching here 13 years and coached hundreds of athletes and there’s been no one finer than Jared Ward,” says Eyestone.
The irony is that if Ward had returned from his mission two weeks earlier, he would have enrolled at BYU immediately and trained daily with the BYU team, which would certainly be more of a competitive advantage than training on his own and running in races against guys in tuxedos.
Under NCAA rules, Ward and Harries could have competed in organized competition if they had done so within a year after graduation, but they chose instead to serve missions for their church. It could be argued that the year-long grace period should have been suspended while they served missions — since the NCAA clock is turned off during military and church service — and resume when they returned from their mission.
By caving in on the Harries and Rhodes cases, the NCAA has not only provided precedence, it has demonstrated that it believes its rules are necessary and justifiable until they are subjected to public ridicule. The NCAA's rules are rules of convenience and, in the case of Harris, Rhodes and Ward, just plain mean-spirited.
The NCAA's sanctions are also capricious and arbitrary. Take the Johnny Manziel case, for instance. He was accused of selling autographs for thousands of dollars, a severe violation of the rules. For that he was forced to sit out the first half against lowly Rice. One suspects the NCAA simply didn’t have the guts to suspend him because of the public grief they would have had to endure if they had ruled the Heisman Trophy winner ineligible.
So, Manziel loses half of a game; Harries, Rhodes and Ward lose a season or more each. They didn’t even knowingly break a rule, and certainly none were doing so to gain a competitive advantage.
The NCAA has painted itself into a corner on the Ward case. If they don’t grant him the same reversal they granted Harries and Rhodes, or show the same leniency they showed Manziel, they are giving one treatment to the powerful revenue-producing sports of basketball and football, while picking on the so-called minor sports.
At the end of the day, anyone with common sense would ask this question: What harm did Ward (and Harries and Rhodes) do to the college game?
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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