Opinion: NCAA Rules Often Result in Player Exploitation

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The Buffalo News (New York)


The NCAA reversed course and made the right decision Tuesday night when allowing North Carolina State freshman Braxton Beverly to begin his college basketball career. The governing body was a few weeks late, and the ruling came after it was bombarded by criticism, but common sense ultimately prevailed.

This one was a no-brainer, even by the NCAA's meek standards. Beverly accepted a scholarship from Ohio State and took classes over the summer before Buckeyes coach Thad Matta was fired. With the coach that recruited him gone, Beverly hit the bricks before participating in a single practice.

The NCAA initially ruled that Beverly was ineligible this season based on transfer rules that call for athletes who had not graduated to sit out a full year before playing for their new team. As anyone could see, there were extenuating circumstances in his case. After two appeals failed, the NCAA corrected its mistake.

Now it's time for the same administrators to act in similar fashion with UB transfer Wes Clark. The point guard would have been in the starting lineup for the Bulls on Wednesday night before they beat Jacksonville State, 81-76, in Alumni Arena, but he remained tangled up in silly regulations with little wiggle room.

CJ Massinburg had a game-high 25 points for UB, which had a comfortable lead for most of the second half and withstood a late surge. Nick Perkins scored 14 of his 16 points over the final 20 minutes as the Bulls improved to 2-0.

Clark watched from the bench while hoping to be reinstated by the NCAA after transferring from Missouri. He left the program after three seasons because the university stripped him of his scholarship, and he has spent nearly two years dribbling in circles while trying to get back on the floor.

"My whole life has been around basketball at playing at the highest level," Clark said. "Most athletes, for real, aren't really thinking about the degree. They just want to play basketball, and the degree happens. But when you're not playing basketball, you get to thinking about some long-term decisions."

Clark was partly responsible for his own exit from Missouri. He twice tested positive for marijuana, which prompted Missouri to send him to rehabilitation. He was sent home from rehab after two meetings because, he said, the staff determined he didn't have a drug problem. He was a college kid who was caught smoking pot.

In other news, the sky is blue.

The real crime was him being ruled ineligible for the start of this season after sitting out all of last year. Because he enrolled at UB in the spring of 2017, and therefore wasn't a "student in residence" for two semesters, the NCAA ruled that he couldn't play until the fall semester ended next month.

Never mind that extenuating circumstances played a role in his situation, too, just as they did with Beverly when he left Ohio State.

The NCAA was investigating Missouri for rules infractions involving an academic matter but didn't clear Clark from its inquiry until Aug. 2, 2016. By the time he could transfer and accept scholarship money elsewhere, there was none left. Nearly every Division I school, including UB, had distributed their allotments.

Clark didn't have money for college, so he took a semester off and helped support his 2-year-old daughter. UB coach Nate Oats, who had coached Clark at Romulus High in suburban Detroit, offered him a scholarship last January with the idea he would finish his college career this season at UB.

Twenty-one months after playing his last game for Missouri, after the NCAA declined requests from UB for him to be reinstated for the opener, he remains ineligible. In part, it's because the NCAA dragged its feet on the academic investigation. If he came from a wealthy family, he could have written a check last fall and played all year.

It's a shame.

"The NCAA made the right decision with Braxton," Oats said. "Wes sat out a year. He paid his penance, so to speak. If Wes' family's financial situation was (better), he would have been here in the fall. But they don't have those means. I feel like he's really being punished because of his socioeconomic background."

Leave it to the rigid, irrational NCAA to stick with its "rules are rules" excuse while making money off the backs of athletes. If a coach gets fired or switches jobs, players should be allowed to transfer without punition. If a university decides to remove or reduce scholarship money it promised, they should be allowed to walk free.

Not that this matters, but Clark is a terrific player who would have contributed to the Bulls right away. Oats called him the most competitive athlete he had ever been around. "Basketball I.Q.-wise, he's the smartest kid I've ever coached," Oats said. "He's a winner, and he's a leader."

It's why he was a two-year starter at Missouri.

Clark can join the Bulls on Dec. 16, giving him 22 games on the schedule, but he should be playing now. The point is that it's another example of the NCAA failing to incorporate common sense and comprehending gray areas. Apparently, its rules apply to some players but not others.

If that's not ridiculous enough, the NCAA decided Clark could play next season even though he's scheduled to graduate in May. He doesn't need another year of college or another season. He's four weeks from his 23rd birthday and months from earning his degree in psychology. He now has two children to support.

Clark's chances of succeeding in life and taking care of his family greatly improve if he earns his degree. He can't earn his degree without basketball unless he was willing to go into debt. Basketball led him to an education. He's on schedule become the first member of his family to earn a four-year degree.

It's how college athletics should work.

UB considered egal action on grounds Clark followed the spirit of the rule and sat out a full season even though he took no classes for one semester. The NCAA should take all factors into consideration. If officials can right a wrong with Beverly, they can do the same with Clark. All it takes is a little common sense.

"Everybody in this case, including the people who heard this case, knows what's right by Wes Clark, and that's for Wes Clark to be able to play right now," Oats said. "The NCAA has painted itself into a corner with their rules. Now you're going to punish a kid because he doesn't have money? At the end of the day, if he had money, he would have been in school for a full year by now."

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November 16, 2017


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