NCAA just can't get it right

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Update: They did (for once)

I don't think I need to see much more from the NCAA. I'm convinced at this point that the organization is really just winging it and they've long abandoned reason, consistency, or fairness. Whether college sports needs a governing body to maintain order or to protect the sanctity of amateurism is debatable.

But one thing is for sure: they aren't really looking out for the best interest of the student-athlete, because they seem to forget that they are humans. Look, we all come from different backgrounds, classes and environments, but most are united by one thing in college: we're poor. Just like most college kids, I took out federal student aid in the form of loans I'll be paying back until I'm 60. Just like most college kids I lived off Top Ramen and soda. I worked a part-time job, did work study, lived in the dorms, and relied on book buy-backs at the end of the semester to fund my modest summer plans.

Student-athletes are not much different. They get room, board, books, and food paid for by scholarships, and in return, are expected to go to class, show up for practice, film study, and weight sessions. This makes their college experience not dissimilar from most. They probably have to sacrifice a bit more than your average student, but just the same are given opportunities (and popularity) that the general campus population isn't.

But they're human. Susceptible to the same hardships, sickness, academic struggles or family turmoil as anyone else. This is plain to see, yet the NCAA doesn't see it. There is a difference between a loan and a grant. There is a difference between a grant and a scholarship. This is plain to see, yet the NCAA doesn't see it.

Blinded by a loosely defined set of rules, the NCAA will get it wrong almost every time. And this is what brings me to the Antoine Turner story, a story that WILL have a happy ending DESPITE the NCAA, but not as happy as it could have been.

Yesterday, I posted the sad/inspiring report on JUCO transfer DT Antoine Turner from Jay Tust and the KTVB news outlet. To say that Turner has had his share of hardships is a gross understatement. Poor college students, of which I assume most of us were at one point, would gladly return to dorm life and pizza coupons rather than endure the upheaval that Turner has.

And because of Tust's report, the news station was flooded with queries by people that wanted to help Turner out (and rightly so). At the moment, Turner is bouncing between a cramped hotel room and his girlfriend's car, which beats the park picnic table he was huddling under a short time ago, but this existence is no picnic either. People wanted to help, which is what humans do, so they inquired about the feasibility of giving the kid some stability until he arrives on campus to pursue his dream.

The response from Boise State was swift and predictable.

We need to make it clear to your viewers and Bronco fans that it is NOT permissible within NCAA rules for boosters of Boise State athletics to provide benefits to Mr. Turner. That would include money, loans, gifts, discounts, transportation costs, etc.

While Mr. Turner's need is abundantly clear, it is not permissible for Boise State, the athletics department or supporters of the athletics department to assist Mr. Turner at this time.  Once Mr. Turner arrives on campus for the start of the summer school program, he will be well taken care of--receiving full tuition, room and board, books, fees etc.   In the meantime, the compliance office is exploring a potential waiver with the NCAA that would allow us to provide assistance prior to the start of summer school.

That's not Boise State's stance, but that of the NCAA, which Boise State is dutifully passing on to cover its own hide (not to mention Mr. Turner's hide). See, Boise State has been down this road before. You'll recall "couch gate," the scandal that cost Boise State nine scholarships and a chunk of practice time because student-athletes were *gasp* sleeping on teammates' couches while in town for summer workouts and *pearl clutch* getting rides from teammates as well as some fast food. Did the NCAA right this wrong after Boise State appealed the decision? No. Did the NCAA reinstate scholarships based on Boise State's string of top 10 APR scores? No. The NCAA punished Boise State harshly for what amounted to basic human kindness.

I didn't have a car for my first year at Boise State, so I begged, borrowed, or walked. I certainly didn't see getting a lift to Jack in the Box as a "benefit," unless you consider it a benefit of having friends. Turner is now in the same position. People are dying to help, because they have genuine care and concern for his well-being, not because they want him to have more than his peers. It's because they think he's entitled to as much as they are.

If sleeping in a warm bed is a benefit, then what category would sleeping on concrete fall under? The NCAA, like many bureaucracies, has trouble seeing the forest through the trees and dispenses rules with the broadest of brushstrokes. Remember, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton didn't really miss a minute of playing time due to NCAA sanctions, but walk-on athletes were denied scholarships that they'd rightly earned because Boise State student-athletes care about each other. And the community cares about a football player, enough to not want him sleeping in a car or under an awning, but that's a bridge too far. Does that sound like the NCAA is being governed by common sense?

This story will have a happy ending for Turner. As Boise State said, he'll be well taken care of once he arrives this summer, and thanks to a waiver, he'll be able to show up a week earlier than his original arrival date of June 6. And I'm confident Turner will work hard for his next goal, be it the NFL or "just" a degree.

And he'll succeed despite his hardships and in spite of a governing body that more and more looks like it's forgot what basic humanity looks like.

Update: Oh wait...NCAA does get it right. Historic!

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