Kevin Short, a junior college transfer in his first year at Kansas, will not play for the Jayhawks this year. In the words of Kansas head coach Charlie Weis, this was the NCAA’s decision:
He was admitted to Kansas as a regular admit with grades and transferable hours exceeding entrance requirements, yet the NCAA ruled to take away competition this year.
But something about this does not add up. When someone says the NCAA “ruled someone ineligible” or the NCAA “took away competition”, that statement assumes that the student-athlete was eligible until the NCAA stepped in and made them ineligible.
With high school prospects, this is debatable. All of them have to pass through the NCAA Eligibility Center for academics. The NCAA must “rule” on their academic record, as a qualifier or nonqualifier. While most of this is plug-and-chug math, athletes must get this stamp of approval and there is enough discretion in the process that saying nonqualifiers were “ruled ineligible” is not entirely inaccurate.
But in the case of junior college transfers and their academics, the NCAA is largely not involved in the process. The NCAA sets the standards, which are then applied by the schools. Compliance professionals, in conjunction with the registrar’s office, admissions, and individual colleges on campus, determine transferrable credits, calculate a transferrable GPA, and confirm graduation from the junior college if necessary. If the athlete meets all the requirements, the school certifies him or her as eligible without involving the NCAA. Weis’s comments continually reference this as what is keeping Short out.
It is only when athletes do not have a high enough GPA, enough transferrable credits (in the correct subjects as well), or do not have their associates degree that the NCAA will be ruling on the case. At that point the institution, having determined that the athlete is not eligible under the transfer rules, may submit a waiver on behalf of the student-athlete. The NCAA then decides not whether to rule the athlete ineligible or not, but whether to rule the athlete eligible, despite not meeting the 2-4 transfer standards.
The counterargument is that the NCAA cannot rule people eligible without necessarily ruling others ineligible. That as soon as the NCAA opened the door to waivers or eligibility rulings of any kind, any athlete who is not eligible has that status because the NCAA made a decision to give them that status. Hence the calls for consistency across not just clearly different types of cases but completely different rules.
But that argument misses that putting the case in the hands of the NCAA can be avoided by meeting the standards. Weis’s statement, intentional or not, misrepresents the case. The NCAA did not choose to take away immediately eligibility for Short. It more likely than not choose not to grant him the immediate eligibility that he did not have because he did not meet the standards. Depending on what element of the 2-4 transfer rules Short did not meet, the NCAA may even have cut him a break, granting him practice and financial aid but not competition.
This matters because when we judge the NCAA on consistency and fairness, we have to know what the action is. “Should the NCAA make this athlete redshirt?” is a much different question than “Should the NCAA allow this athlete to play immediately?”. If waiver applications start to take on the same connotation as athletes becoming ineligible because of a violation, it will be even harder to make heads or tails of what the NCAA is doing.