The NCAA has spoken, albeit late, two games into the season, and the news is not what Arizona football player Davonte’ Neal wanted to hear.
The governing body has ruled against Neal’s second appeal to play immediately with the Wildcats after transferring from Notre Dame. Neal, who played mostly as a punt returner last year as a freshman with the Fighting Irish, wants a hardship waiver to the NCAA’s transfer rule that requires players moving from one FBS program to another to sit a season before regaining eligibility.
The reason for his transfer from South Bend, Ind., to Tucson is to be with his 7-month daughter. Commendable reason. It’s not within the letter of the hardship waiver rule, but Neal’s transition for family reasons should be one that is condoned by the NCAA.
Neal and Arizona plan another appeal but Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is not optimistic.
“It doesn’t look good,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying by Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com.
The same can be said of the NCAA: It doesn’t look good.
The NCAA’s missteps in the case involving the Miami football program are reasons enough to question every ruling made by the organization.
“I can go into great detail, but I don’t want to waste y’all’s time on what my opinions are with some of the NCAA rulings,” Rodriguez said at his weekly press conference. “The only thing I will say about some of the things with the NCAA is they’re consistent with being inconsistent.”
Rodriguez was a subject of an NCAA investigation in 2010 when he coached at Michigan and it was alleged that he violated rules regarding limitations on practice time and off-field activities. The Wolverines were placed on three years of probation (which ends Nov. 5). Their practice time was reduced to 130 hours.
Do all programs abide by practice-time limitations, including the time spent between graduate assistants and athletes? That’s a good question.
The only other major football program placed on probation from this kind of offense was Maryland in 2011 after the Terps turned themselves in to the NCAA.
The NCAA should view the Neal case for what it is: A father wanting the best possible situation for his daughter. It instead views its denial of Neal’s appeals as a means to control an epidemic of athletes transferring from one school to another.
John Infante writes in an NCAA Transfer 101 blog: “The hardship transfer waiver is for student-athletes who are compelled to transfer because of financial hardship or an injury or illness to the student-athlete or a member of their family.”
ESPN.com reports that between April 2007 and April 2012 that the NCAA approved 85 undergraduate requests while denying 86 others. The NCAA makes its decision on a case-by-case basis. It does not have a blanket formula for every hardship waiver.
“There are a number of factors that are considered with the criteria, some of which include the relationship of the individual to the student-athlete and proximity from transferring institution to where the individual lives/is being treated, to name a couple,” NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh told ESPN.com.
“Each case is reviewed and determined based on its own merits, so it would not be accurate for me to say if any one factor is weighted more than another nor if cases that look similar on the surface have different outcomes.”
The fact that each case is weighed by its own merits allows Neal an opportunity to have his waiver request granted. Being with his daughter does not fall into the text of the NCAA rule because no injuries or illnesses are involved to Neal or his family.
The financial hardship reason for immediate eligibility is vague because athletes can’t hold jobs during the school year because of demands on their time with studies and team activities. A majority of athletes experience financial hardship. Athletes don’t receive stipends and they are not supposed to accept $100 hand shakes.
Former Scottsdale Chaparral teammates Connor Brewer and Davonte’ Neal are now at Arizona along with coach Charlie Ragle (who is now the special teams coach with the Wildcats). All three are shown in this video from two years ago
With the vagueness of this part of the waiver rule, the NCAA can not look at Neal’s case decisively as a breach.
The NCAA’s denials of Neal’s appeals are because of these reasons:
— Neal’s transfer from Notre Dame to Arizona is not because of an emergency.
— Neal could have been closer to his daughter in South Bend, Ind., by moving her and the mother to that area, instead of uprooting them from Scottsdale down the road to Tucson.
— Neal understood the consequences of leaving Notre Dame for another FBS program before he left.
Valid points but here are some objections:
— Neal is from Arizona, specifically the Scottsdale area, not South Bend. His daughter and girlfriend now reside in Tucson. It is more natural to be closer to home than in Indiana in this situation.
— It may not be an emergency and Neal may have known that he had to sit a year before he transferred, but everything comes back to him trying to be a responsible father.
“I’m here for my daughter (who was born in February),” Neal told Daniel Berk of The Arizona Daily Star. “I felt like that was a good argument for me to come back. I still feel like that it’s a good reason.”
His admiration for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish program was well documented. He did not leave selfishly because of a lack of opportunities. Kelly reportedly planned to start Neal this year as a slot receiver after Robby Toma exhausted his eligibility.
“The plan was to move his girlfriend and his baby to South Bend, but Davonte’ just felt the need to be closer to his family and his girlfriend’s family at this time,” his father, Luke Neal, told Blue & Gold when the younger Neal announced in March his decision to leave Notre Dame.
“It’s a situation that I’ve been talking to Davonte’ about … through his girlfriend’s pregnancy, and he’s finally realized he wants to be involved in his daughter’s life closer than from a distance at Notre Dame.”
The unfortunate circumstance with the NCAA denying Neal’s appeals to play immediately is that he ironically is being used as an example by the governing body.
The reality is Neal is a fine example … of a young father accepting responsibility and knowing it is best for his daughter to be around her grandparents and extended family as much as possible during her formative years.
“My family is still in a good place,” Neal told Berk. “I’m still in a good place despite the decision that we got. I’m happy and they’re happy.”
He may not play a game for the Wildcats this season, but he can’t lose on Saturdays, and every day of the year, with the path he’s taken.