The NCAA has truly been on a run of first-rate justice lately. It penalized reigning Heisman winner and shirtless mugshot male model Johnny Manziel 30 minutes of playing time for maybe just maybe getting paid cash money for signing autographs. It spelunked around the University of Miami's most sordid institutional bacchanals and handed down the so-called penalty of probation plus a few lost scholarships.
Allegedly loaded for bear, the NCAA can't seem to claim a decent hide lately. How, then, to maintain the peeling facade of relevance when gargantuan TV contracts and megaconferences threaten not only the hoary notions of amateur athletics, but the very existence of the NCAA itself? Why, by stripping a freshman basketball player of a year's eligibility for doodling around in three church-league games, obviously.
Nathan Harries, a freshman at Colgate, just got jobbed out of a year of his college eligibility because he didn't win the Heisman. No, because he didn't hire the best lawyers. No, because he goes to a school in a non-BCS conference. No, wait, shit — because he played in three games in a league at Dunwoody Baptist Church after returning home from two years on a Mormon mission.
Here's how the Atlanta Journal Constitution explained this grave infraction:
The governing body ruled that Harries played this past summer in an organized and competitive basketball league before enrolling at Colgate. In truth, Harries actually was just a fill-in for three games for a “C” level team in a relative church basketball league. Most players are in their 30s; one team is largely comprised of players in their 50s. According to one player, Matt Adams, a 36-year-old high school teacher, “We had one guy who played with us and he was like, ‘If any of you have any advice you could give me that would be great because I never played basketball before.’” ...
The NCAA mandates student-athletes who don’t enroll in college within a year of graduating high school may not compete in organized competition or risk losing a year of eligibility. There is a legitimate reason for the rule. It’s to prevent athletes from playing games in competitive leagues and gaining an advantage before beginning college. There is a one-year grace period for the rule, however, which means Harries could have competed in a legitimate summer basketball league immediately following graduation without penalty.
He didn’t do that. Instead, 10 days after graduation, he began his mission in Raleigh, N.C. For two years, seven days a week, he rose at 6:30 a.m., did 30 minutes of exercise, then studied the Bible, performed service projects and used his high school Spanish skills to lend assistance in the barrios. He was allowed to email family members once a week, but speak to them by phone only twice a year: Christmas and Mother’s Day. ...
[A friend] contacted Harries in mid-July because some players on his team couldn’t make the team’s next game and his roster was down to four players. Harries, hoping to get back in playing shape, jumped at the chance for a full-court game. He played three games total — two on one night, one on another.
In late July, just a few weeks before Harries planned to head to the Colgate campus in upstate New York, the NCAA emailed him a standard questionnaire, asking if he played any organized sports over the past two years. Harries didn’t think much of it. He responded yes.
A week later, the NCAA sent back a notice declaring him ineligible.
Colgate asked for a waiver. It was denied Oct. 21. Late last week, Colgate filed an appeal.
The NCAA has already established that its investigative capacities are up to snuff, even if its closing abilities lately leave something to be desired. So why deny an athlete's right to play college ball without even the pretense of an investigation? Why not pick up a phone? Or do anything at all to give the lad the benefit of the doubt?
Act as fill-in roster fodder for three church league games, and they steal a year from the kid, based on self-reported information. The precedent is easy to read here. Whenever the NCAA asks you vaguely incriminating questions: Never, ever admit anything. Not as if it'll ever know any different. Clearly that dog stays on the porch no matter what.
NCAA: Church-league game disqualifies Centennial grad [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Sad clown photo credit: Getty