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Monday, June 15, 2009

NCAA: Failing At Sports, Academics, and Life

I try not to assume too much about the readers here but I'm going to go out on a limb that you're all more knowledgeable about sports than you let on. I'm assuming that you're all more than just hockey-centric sports fans and that you're familiar with the NCAA.

I'm also guessing that you'll be aware of how they've "handled" themselves and member schools over certain academic faux pas in the past, especially those having to do with the eligibility of athletes that play football and basketball.

All of those assumptions and suppositions aside, it's time I introduce you to Air Force Academy defenseman Kevin Wright.

One is a well-respected American institution, the other just hates student athletes trying to learn.

Kevin Wright just completed his sophomore year at Air Force, a United States Academy and one of the most esteemed academic institutions in the nation. The Air Force Academy mission statement reads as such:

...To educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.

Serious business and the kind of place that instantly gets respect from anyone that comes into contact with them, much like how the United States Military Academy and United States Naval Academy does. These guys are the best and the brightest and choose to give part of, if not all of, their lives to their country.

For Kevin Wright, however, the NCAA thinks differently of him. They think that he's the kind of guy who would backdoor his own academics to get into the Air Force by taking too many classes before enrolling at Air Force.

Get ready to be disgusted:

He wanted to play Division I college hockey but had no offers from D-I programs or from junior hockey clubs - from which collegiate programs recruit players. Because he was 17, however, he had a year of midget hockey eligibility. He decided to play that final year to attract junior teams.

His parents were OK with the decision but wanted him to take classes, so he enrolled at West Valley Community College in Saratoga, Calif.

This is not uncommon. According to Air Force coach Frank Serratore, virtually all of Wright's teammates took some classes at community colleges while playing junior hockey. It shows a commitment to academics.

Wright's error was taking too many classes.


So, the NCAA who often enjoys shrugging off coaches wantonly breaking rules by supplying prized recruits with gifts, money, what-have-you now has a problem with a kid who busted his ass to keep up academically so he could even qualify to enroll at the Air Force Academy.

What the hell is wrong with this picture? You would think that the NCAA would go nuts over having a kid who wanted the opportunity to play and compete so badly that he made sure he took classes to ensure his application to the Academy would go through.

Then again, perhaps the NCAA just doesn't give a damn about hockey players since that's not a sport that helps make them a lot of money. After all, when Myron Rolle was going for a Rhodes Scholarship while playing football for Florida State (one of those sneaky, shady institutions that likes to run afoul of the rules) they couldn't do anything but gush and praise the man.

But what about Kevin Wright?

Nope, screw him because he took a few too many classes before entering the Air Force Academy. At least that's what the NCAA tells him:

According to NCAA bylaw 14.2.1 - the five-year rule - once someone takes enough classes to be considered a "full-time" student, he has five calendar years in which to complete his four seasons of participation. By taking enough classes to be considered full time at West Valley, Wright started his NCAA eligibility clock.

That means, according to the NCAA, time's up. Year one was spent playing midget hockey for the San Jose Jr. Sharks (2004-05), two and three were spent playing junior hockey for the Southern Minnesota Express of the North American Hockey League (2005-07) and his fourth and fifth years were his freshman and sophomore years at the academy (2007-09).

"He could have sloughed off and not gone to school at all and not had any of this happen," Serratore said. "But he and his parents wanted to do the right thing. He's punished for being academically motivated."

Academically motivated student-athlete. Isn't that what the NCAA is ideally all about?

Oh right, it is:

Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.

Quite the conundrum we've got here, isn't it?

What makes this entire thing all the more painful is that Wright received bad advice about what to do about his academics if he wanted to retain his full eligibility. Kevin and his family of course wanted to do right by the rules and the NCAA has enough loopholes around their rules that they could look the other way and allow him to go through.

As is obvious by his story as told by Jake Schaller of the Colorado Springs Gazette, he's not trying to fool anyone and he's trying to do right by the rules and regulations, something the folks running the Air Force Academy would be proud of.

Instead, the NCAA feels the need to flex their muscles and show how much of a stickler they can be for their own rules:

But the NCAA turned down Wright's waiver, and the committee on student-athlete reinstatement denied Wright's appeal because it "was unable to identify compelling extenuating circumstances to meet the requirements for extending the five-year period of eligibility or for waiving the start of the student-athlete's five-year clock."

In such cases, according to Stacey Osburn, the NCAA's associate director for public and media relations, the committee and staff also weigh that a student-athlete like Wright made the decision to delay enrollment at an NCAA school for athletic reasons (not for personal or academic motives).

The five-year rule attempts "to ensure a fair and level playing field for all student-athletes, including those that compete against the student-athletes applying for waivers," Osburn said.

"I thought that once they saw that I wasn't trying to cheat the system and that I was just trying to take care of my education that there was no harm or any negative side effects from my actions as far as athletics go," Wright said.

But in the letter confirming the denial of Wright's appeal, Jennifer Henderson, the NCAA's director of membership services/student-athlete reinstatement, wrote that "no additional appeal opportunity" exists.

But he hasn't given up. His family has begun a campaign to draw attention to the matter in the hopes that someone, anyone will intervene.

Ahh yes, the campaign to draw attention to the NCAA ruling like a pack of iron-fisted dictators and having no idea on when to use common sense when judging the case of some kid who, by all understanding is just a regular guy looking to play hockey and keep throwing up a 3.4 GPA.

Count me in on this battle because the NCAA seems to want to play like they're standing hard by their rules, and that's a good example to set for other sports that are continually finding ways to get around or outright break the NCAAs rules. Hockey, generally, isn't one of those sports that looks to flout their ability to stick it to the NCAA and playing hard-ass with a hockey player, and one at a United States Academy at that, seems shortsighted and foolish on their part.

This opinion seems to be shared amongst other members in the NCAA Hockey community as is shown in this special correspondence sent to Jack Schaller courtesy of Air Force coach Frank Serratore:

Frank: Very, very sorry to hear about the Kevin Wright/NCAA issue. I am of the opinion that Kevin has a legitimate case and it should be pursued. The NCAA objective regarding eligibility, should be a fair and honest effort to insure that every athlete has an opportunity to compete. Opportunity, opportunity it should always be about opportunity for young adults to participate. Seems to be very clear that Kevin was given incorrect advice by an academic counselor in whom Kevin trusted. For this reason alone he should have his eligibility restored. There was no attempt on Kevin’s part to circumvent the NCAA rules. The key words are TRUST and INTENT. Kevin delayed his entry into DI athletics in order to better prepare himself to compete. At least 95% of all hockey players contemplating D-I hockey competition, play junior or some other level of hockey in order match the experience level of their contemporaries. Football and basketball players don’t have to go the same route as hockey players in order to be on the same competitive level as their contemporaries. Unfortunately, most of the NCAA staff members that deal with eligibility have no hockey background. The end result is that Kevin becomes an innocent victim.

That was sent to Coach Serratore from former Bemidji State Athletic Director and newly retired commissioner of College Hockey America, Bob Peters. One of the last lines from Peters really sticks out to me: "Unfortunately, most of the NCAA staff members that deal with eligibility have no hockey background."

Why doesn't the NCAA have some folks on their staff that know more about hockey? How is it possible that this organization that governs most of the collegiate sports in America doesn't have someone with a lick of common sense or detailed hockey knowledge? And if there aren't any folks at the NCAA that know better about these things, why are they even making a ruling on this situation without understanding it?

I know why. They're the NCAA that's why. They're like Alec Baldwin's character Blake in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and if you ask them what their name is you get, "Fuck YOU, that's my name!"

No one around to check them, no one there to balance them and certainly no one there to listen to the story of Kevin Wright and put things into the proper perspective for them.

But that's why we're here on the Internet, to bring stories like this into the light.

We're here to help a kid who's getting the short end of the stick courtesy of an organization that would rather play hard with the rules than gain any insight or understanding into someone's situation.

Spread the word.


Anonymous said...

My son recently committed to the Air Force hockey program. Before joining the team for in 2010 or 2011, he will play junior hockey for at least one full season. My wife and I wish for him to maintain his skills in the classroom so he can be prepared to meet the academic rigors of the Academy. We started looking into junior college classes but were counseled by others to make sure that the classes were not taken "for credit" because the NCAA would start his eligibility clock. Hard to believe that an institution with a stated mission to promote student athleticism is, in fact, taking measures that prevent it.

Host PPH said...

haha that would really sucks, fortunately I did not fail at academics or life, but I did fail at sports, I sucked! LOL