The story spread like wildfire among college athletics devotees: a top women’s basketball recruit from Alabama had been suspended for her senior season for receiving a stipend check for her participation in a USA Basketball tournament in violation of AHSAA rules.
The practice is allowed by the NCAA. State associations may allow for such payments. The check was reportedly sent by accident, and the payment was returned. The circumstances around the whole incident led to a sense of outrage over the perceived injustice done to the player at the heart of the matter, Rutgers commit Maori Davenport.
National media, including the likes of ESPN’s Jay Bilas, weighed in, calling for AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese to intervene in the case, and to reinstate Davenport.
In response, Johnny Hardin, the AHSAA Central Board of Control president, issued a lengthy statement defending the decision to uphold Davenport’s year-long suspension.
"As President of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Central Board of Control, I would like to address the numerous stories being circulated regarding a recent eligibility ruling assessed to a student-athlete attending Charles Henderson High School (CHHS). Several facts involved in the ruling have either been misstated or ignored; therefore, I feel the need to provide the following details:
No one (including USA Basketball or CHHS) disputes the Amateur Rule was violated. On August 15, 2018, USA Basketball paid the student $857.20 for lost wages while participating with the USA Basketball team over the past summer. Neither USA Basketball, the student’s parents, the student’s coach, nor CHHS administration reported the student had received the check until three months later, (specifically 91 days). During this time, the student played in several games. The AHSAA Amateur Rule states in part “A student cannot accept payment for loss of time or wages while participating in athletics as part of expenses . . . A student who has lost his/her amateur standing may be reinstated after the lapse of one high school season for the sport in which he/she has become professional . . .”
The check ($857.20) paid to the student was dated August 15, 2018, and endorsed by the student and posted to the student’s bank account on August 27, 2018. The student’s mother sent USA Basketball a check in the same amount three months later on November 28, 2018.
The student’s mother is a certified AHSAA Basketball Coach; therefore, she is required to uphold current AHSAA bylaws and rules, including the Amateur Rule quoted above. Furthermore, the Head Girls’ Basketball Coach at CHHS is a former member of the AHSAA Central Board of Control; thus, she should not only appreciate the importance of knowing and following the AHSAA bylaws and eligibility rules but also understand how imperative it is to consistently uphold the same rules.
Steve Savarese, as AHSAA Executive Director, made the eligibility ruling based upon the plain language of the Amateur Rule. As Executive Director, Mr. Savarese does not have the authority to change a rule. Rather, as Executive Director, his job is to apply the rules as written.
Following Mr. Savarese’s ruling, the school appealed to both appellate levels for the AHSAA. First, to the District 2 Board – affirmed by unanimous vote of the 4-member Board. Next, to the Central Board of Control - affirmed by unanimous vote of the 15-member Board which represents the entire State. Thus, this ruling was affirmed by the Board that under the AHSAA Constitution has complete and final jurisdiction over all questions of the Constitution and Bylaws or other facts appealed to it by a member school. Mr. Savarese was not present at the District appeal or during deliberation at the Central Board hearing. To be clear, this ruling was affirmed by the Central Board of Control and as Executive Director, Mr. Savarese does not have the authority to change or reverse a ruling made by the Central Board.
Also, please remember, the AHSAA member schools, not Mr. Savarese nor the AHSAA staff, write and approve the AHSAA eligibility rules which include the Amateur Rule.
The AHSAA Legislative Council has the authority each year at the annual meeting to amend the AHSAA Constitution and Rules. Meaning, each year the member schools (including Charles Henderson High School) have an opportunity to change a rule or create new ones. The penalty for violating the Amateur Rule has not been amended in at least the past 10 years with Mr. Savarese as Executive Director. Which, in turn, means each year Charles Henderson High School has agreed to the penalty for violating this Rule without comment or pursuing any kind of rule change within the legislative process.
Each year these Rules are reviewed multiple times during AHSAA sponsored and hosted seminars with the member schools and are available on the AHSAA website. A review of all Summer Conference and Principals’ and Athletic Directors’ Conference attendees show the Principal for Charles Henderson High School has not attended the 2016, 2017, or 2018 Summer Conferences or the 2016, 2017 or 2018 Principals’ and Athletic Directors’ Conferences.
The stories and comments being circulated throughout the media and social networks are asking that an exception be made to the Amateur Rule because it was not the student’s fault; the fact the money was repaid, and that the student is an exceptional athlete and will miss her senior year. However, if exceptions are made, there would no longer be a need for an Amateur Rule. The Rules are applied equally to ALL athletes. Furthermore, most eligibility violations are the result of adults failing to follow the rules. Here, the student’s mother as a certified AHSAA Coach should know the rules; the School’s Principal should know the rules, the Head Basketball Coach, as not only a Coach but also as a former Central Board member, should know the rules.
Another point not mentioned in the public stories being circulated is that creating an exception to this Rule would have provided an avenue to exploit student-athletes by providing an opportunity for students to receive money and prizes for athletic participation and if discovered, state they didn’t know the rule, thus allowing them to return the items and retain eligibility. This is why AHSAA stresses to the leadership of its member schools how important it is to know the rules and advise their students regarding all rules that affect eligibility. Informing student-athletes of the consequences for violating such rules is the responsibility of the adults supervising them.
It should be pointed out that a high school student from Illinois also received payment from USA Basketball. However, that student called her high school once she received the check and then returned the check to USA Basketball without cashing or depositing it. Here, the student received the check, endorsed it and it was posted to her bank account. Three months later, AHSAA was notified and the monies returned to USA Basketball.
A high school student from Missouri has also been ruled ineligible for this basketball season for accepting the lost wages payment from USA Basketball.
USA Basketball never called Charles Henderson High School or AHSAA to ask if payment for lost wages violated AHSAA rules until November which was three months after payment was made and accepted by the student. This was not a clerical error but a complete lack of administrative oversight on the part of USA Basketball, thus possibly rendering multiple student-athletes ineligible as most states have an Amateur Rule.
Lastly, misstated facts and placing Mr. Savarese’s email on social media has led to Mr. Savarese and the AHSAA staff receiving threatening, irresponsible, and vulgar communications.
We, as the Central Board of Control, stand by the staff of the AHSAA and thank them for their unwavering support of the AHSAA mission, educational athletics, as well as the AHSAA Constitution and Bylaws."
In response to the claims made in the statement, Tara Davenport, Maori’s mother, pushed back.
“I’m getting very angry,” she told ESPN.com. “They are trying to pull stuff out after all this national attention. I’m a fifth-grade teacher and here as a volunteer coach. I just help on game day. I have not been trained on the amateur rule,” she continued.
Tara Davenport said that she didn’t question the USA Basketball check at the time, despite the AHSAA statement outlining months between when it was deposited and when it was returned.
She said that USA Basketball alerted her to its error on Nov. 27, and the following day Tara left a voicemail for Savarese — but never heard back from him.
“The only reason I didn’t question the check is because it was from USA Basketball,” Davenport told ESPN.com. “I felt like they are big time, and I didn’t have to question it.”
USA Basketball president Jim Tooley reportedly traveled to Alabama to help appeal the suspension, where he took responsibility for his organization’s mistake.
Given the new details, we’re reposting our poll question from yesterday. Should the AHSAA reinstate Maori Davenport? Vote below.
Should the AHSAA reinstate basketball player Maori Davenport? https://t.co/PJuRY8fph1— Athletic Business (@AthleticBiz) January 7, 2019