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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)
By Ed Miller 

Trey Freeman had no idea. He knew his mother had not been feeling well, but when he came home from Campbell University last spring to surprise her, he was the one caught off guard.

There were intravenous lines in his mother's arms, nurses coming and going each day. What he thought were merely complications from the removal of a wisdom tooth had developed into something far more serious: a painful bone infection called osteomyelitis that Miriam Freeman is still fighting, nearly a year after she contracted it.

"Nobody's heard of this, to be honest," she said from her home in Virginia Beach last week. "They think it's a tooth infection that's going to go away. Believe me, it's more than that."

Freeman received treatment with antibiotics and underwent 40 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. She will learn soon whether she'll need surgery to remove dead bone and reconstruct her jaw.

No one could question that she's been sick. But Freeman was not sick enough for the NCAA.

The organization turned down a request for a hardship waiver that would have allowed Trey Freeman to transfer to Old Dominion this year and play right away, rather than sit out a year as regular transfers are required to do.

Such waivers are granted all the time - except when they aren't. No hard-and-fast rules seem to apply, leading to decisions that can appear arbitrary and inconsistent. In this case, a short-handed ODU team was denied the services of a point guard who had been its best player in preseason practice.

"It's almost like there's no rhyme or reason," ODU athletic director Wood Selig said. "There's too much gray area."

Some of the gray could be eliminated, however. The NCAA leadership council discussed changes to transfer waiver rules at last week's NCAA convention. Though no action was taken, the issue is expected to be considered again in April, and changes could be implemented next season.

The changes proposed by a subcommittee would eliminate waivers for immediate eligibility for all but the most extreme cases. Instead of being allowed to play immediately, players with family hardships would have their eligibility clock extended by a year. Instead of having five years to play four seasons, they would get up to six years.

The new rules wouldn't take the NCAA entirely out of the business of weighing pain and suffering. But they would reduce the impact of decisions that in the case of basketball - where one player can be a big difference-maker - have become a particularly controversial issue.

"The one sort of common thought that coaches share with me is that they don't understand why one player is given a waiver to be eligible immediately and another isn't," said Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

This season alone, NCAA rulings have been all over the map:

* A Houston player was allowed to play immediately at Oregon when his father, a Cougars' coach, was reassigned on the staff.

* After first being denied, upon appeal an Iowa State player was allowed to play right away at Rutgers to be closer to home after his father and brother died.

* A guard from Drake with a gluten sensitivity was allowed to transfer home to play at Duquesne so his mother can cook for him.

* But a center from Rider who transferred from Utah State to be closer to his ailing grandfather was denied immediate eligibility, and a guard for Illinois with a sick grandmother who transferred closer to home - but not close enough - had his request denied.

Seeking to eliminate the ambiguity, the NCAA subcommittee's proposal would consider immediate eligibility only when a family member is facing a terminal illness.

Former ODU player DeShawn Painter, a transfer from N.C. State, was allowed to play immediately in such a case last year, when he came home to be closer to his terminally ill grandmother.

The number of players seeking immediate eligibility - or "legislative relief" as it is called by the NCAA - is small, relative to the total number of transfers. During the 2011-12 season, 34 of 52 undergraduate waiver requests were granted and 7 of 8 were given for graduate students. For 2012-13, the latest year for which figures are available, 39 of 62 undergraduate and 15 of 16 graduate waivers were approved.

Still, the trend is "seen as negatively influencing the culture of men's basketball, in particular," according to a document produced by an NCAA subcommittee.

Many coaches agree. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski has called for either granting all transfers immediate eligibility or granting none. Most coaches would prefer the latter, Haney said.

"In general, they feel student-athletes should sit out a year," he said.

Transferring, in general, is a hot-button issue. Last off-season, roughly 450 Division I players switched schools. By the end of their second year, 40 percent of players have transferred from where they first enrolled, Haney said. The transfers can negatively affect a school's academic progress report scores, he said. Players who have transferred also graduate at a lower rate than those who don't.

The NCAA has several transfer-related proposals under consideration. With questions of governance dominating the agenda at the convention in San Diego last week, the Leadership Council delayed any action until its next meeting in April.

"... We felt we could, maybe not reduce the number of transfers, but hopefully ensure that the student-athletes who are transferring are making the right decision and not just doing it because, 'School A has promised me they're going to get a waiver and school B hasn't said anything,' " Amy Huchthuasen, the transfer subcommittee chair, told USA Today.

Guidelines for hardship waivers were altered in November 2012 in response to "current waiver trends" and a belief that decisions had been inconsistent.

The rules adopted then required that a family member have an injury or illness that is "debilitating and requires ongoing care." The player also had to demonstrate that he had regular, ongoing responsibilities as a caregiver. The school where the player is transferring also has to be within 100 miles of the player's home, and coaches must promise to relieve the player of team responsibilities if needed to care for the ailing relative.

The Freemans appeared to meet those standards. That made the NCAA's decision "difficult to accept, given the seemingly inconsistent decisions made by the NCAA on these matters" coach Jeff Jones said.

An NCAA spokesman sent the organization's transfer regulations but said it does not generally comment on specific cases.

Miriam, a retired elementary school principal, never missed a game in Freeman's two seasons at Campbell. She would make the roughly eight-hour round trip from Virginia Beach to Buies Creek, N.C., two or three times a week.

When she became sick last February, she knew those days were over. Between her doctor's appointments and the constant pain, traveling that far was not an option.

She said she did her best to put on a brave face for her son while he was away at school. But when he returned home and saw how his mother's condition had worsened, he was alarmed.

She hoped he'd return to school and get on with his playing career and education. A second-team all-conference guard on track to graduate in three years, he was thriving both on and off the court.

"He just thought I needed him more," she said.

Trey Freeman needed to be back home as well. He was distracted at Campbell, worried about his mother.

"I wanted to be there for her," he said.

He has been, and said that he's glad to be back home, even if he's unable to play this season. In practice, he runs ODU's scout team. He'll have two years of eligibility left.

As for the waiver request, the Freemans weren't sure what to expect. Given all the other transfers granted, they were hopeful. But the process dragged - with numerous requests from the NCAA for more medical information.

"I just thought the NCAA didn't understand the severity of the illness itself," Miriam Freeman said.

Ed Miller, 757-446-2372

ed.miller@pilotonline.com

ODU and the NCAA.

The Monarchs received a favorable ruling in the summer of 2012 on their waiver request for DeShawn Painter, who was granted immediate eligibility after transferring from N.C. State. Since then, however, the NCAA has ruled against ODU in three other cases.

* Freshman Ambrose Mosley failed to get through the NCAA eligiblity clearinghouse after a school he attended in the 10th grade encountered financial and accreditation issues. He sat out last season and was unable to practice with the team.

* Guard Donte Hill, who led the Monarchs in minutes played last year, was docked a season of eligibility for playing eight minutes in a closed pre-season scrimmage while at Clemson. Hill and ODU appealed the ruling, but were denied.

* Guard Trey Freeman, a transfer from Campbell, had a hardship waiver request denied by the NCAA and was forced to sit out this season.

ODU and the NCAA

The Monarchs received a favorable ruling in the summer of 2012 on their waiver request for DeShawn Painter, who was granted immediate eligibility after transferring from N.C. State. Since then, however, the NCAA has ruled against ODU in three other cases.

Freshman Ambrose Mosley failed to get through the NCAA eligibility clearinghouse after a school he attended in the 10th grade encountered financial and accreditation issues. He sat out last season and was unable to practice with the team.

Guard Donte Hill, who led the Monarchs in minutes played last year, was docked a season of eligibility for playing eight minutes in a closed preseason scrimmage while at Clemson. Hill and ODU appealed the ruling, but were denied.

Guard Trey Freeman, above, a transfer from Campbell, is sitting out this season after his request for a hardship waiver was denied.

inside A look at other recent instances when waiver requests by ODU transfers were denied by the NCAA. Page 4

 
Sam Owens photos | for the virginian-pilot Coach Jeff Jones advises Trey Freeman, left, on his layup form during practice Monday. Freeman has to sit out this season.
 
January 23, 2014
 
 
 

 

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