The NCAA can’t be criticized enough. More proof comes with this week’s tale of an Ohio softball star who will have to sit out her freshman college season as punishment for changing her mind, while still in high school, about what university she wanted to attend.
The Journal News, of Butler County, Ohio, reported on Tuesday that Allie Cummins, now in her first year at Miami University, had lost a year of NCAA athletic eligibility and would not be playing for Redhawks this year. Cummins signed a national letter of intent last November, early into her senior year at Lakota West High School, declaring she intended to go to the University of Akron after graduation. The college had been recruiting her since she was 15.
But during her final softball season at Lakota, one in which she hit .591 with nine HRs, led the squad to the state championship game, and was named first team all-Ohio, Cummins had a change of heart. She announced she would instead attend another in-state D1 school, Miami University.
Akron softball had a record of 4-43-1 last season; Miami went 24-25, which includes taking two of three games against Akron.
Cummins claimed her decision came after finding “video proof of drinking and smoking activity among the Akron players.”
“I was friends with a girl on the team and she sent them to me personally,” Cummins told the Cincinnati Enquirer in August. “I don’t participate with drinking and smoking and stuff.”
But Akron athletic officials, acting vindictively but within NCAA rules, told Cummins that the NLI she signed was binding and that they would not release her from its obligations. That meant that unless she could get Akron to free her up, either by doing the right thing voluntarily or getting the NCAA to force them to, Cummins would not be able to play college ball until the next school year, and she would lose one year of athletic eligibility.
Cummins appealed to some little-known but powerful NCAA tentacle called the National Letter of Intent Appeals Committee. But Akron continued doing everything the rules allowed to damage her athletic career—and the rules allowed ‘em to inflict plenty of hurt. Akron said it wanted the NLI enforced. The committee sided with Akron, telling Cummins she could play at Akron or nowhere this school year. Cummins requested a review of that decision, but according to the Journal-Review was recently told that she has no further appeal options, so she’s benched until next year.
Contacted by Deadspin for comment, Jonathan Platten, spokesman for Akron’s softball program, referred to a statement released on August 27 from softball coach Julie Jones. In that declaration, Jones pretends that because NCAA rules allow her and Akron to screw over a kid, they are the ones actually fighting the good fight by screwing over the kid. The statement:
“The University of Akron and Department of Athletics has followed all of the required protocols in place when dealing with a National Letter of Intent. After receiving a request to release the NLI, the department thoroughly reviewed the request and ultimately decided to uphold the requirements of the NLI program. The University released Allison from her obligation to attend the University of Akron and allowed her to speak freely with any schools or programs. After an appeal was filed to the NLI committee, the University followed all protocols required and the NLI committee upheld the requirements established by the NLI program.”
There is, sadly, nothing new about Akron’s abusive behavior. There’s even recent precedent for this special brand of NCAA-sanctioned evilness in Cummins home state: Ohio State refused to allow schoolboy hoops star Braxton Beverly to play for N.C. State his freshman year for much the same reason. After huge public outcry about the injustice of it all, shamed NCAA officials stepped in—three hours before N.C. State tipped off last season—and gave Beverly permission to play.
With Cummins being a softball player and not a basketball star, and Akron and Miami not being Ohio State and N.C. State, Cummins will likely not get the attention or support Beverly got. Nor is it likely the NCAA will be shamed into forcing Akron’s hand. So Cummins is resigned to starting her college career at Miami next season, and with only three seasons of athletic eligibility.
After getting the final batch of bad news, Daryl Cummins, the player’s father, warned other parents and their kids not to make the mistakes his family made, the biggest one being playing the college recruiting game while not being fully aware that all the rules are written to give universities all the power, and keep the athletes powerless.
“I’ll bet you 99 percent of the people that sign an NLI have no idea what it means or what the repercussions are if it doesn’t go well,” the elder Cummins told the Journal-News. “Now for 95 percent of the people, it’s all hunky-dory. But for the other 5 percent, they have no advocate to talk to.”