By Loren Sanders
Prior to the 2013 football season, the NCAA ruled that a former Marine, Sergeant Steven Rhodes, was ineligible to play for MTSU because he had played backyard football while enlisted. They decided that he would have an advantage over other college freshman because he had played in games where the teams wore uniforms and the score was kept. Guess what, everybody wore uniforms where Sergeant Rhodes was. Because, after the games, he and his teammates went back to putting their lives on the line for our country.
Remember in middle school when you had a substitute teacher who would come in under the misguided assumption that she had control over the class? Starting in about seventh grade, one day every couple of months, we’d roll into first period math only to find Ms. Boone settling in and preparing to begin the day’s math lesson. Ms. Boone would then find herself greeted by a chorus of “Ms. Booooooone!” (Yeah, we were really original.) As an assortment of school supplies flew past her face, the sub quickly realized that she has no control at all, but in order to maintain the illusion of that control, she had to give the kids what they want. And, by the end of the class period, no one had learned anything about math, but no one was bleeding either. What once was an orderly classroom now was a colection of cliques gossipping amongst themselves while the sub just made sure no one made a run for the door. Ms. Boone hadn’t cried yet, but second period was about to start.
Always a stickler for its rules, the NCAA dropped the hammer on Rhodes. However, once the media got ahold of this story in mid-August, it took the NCAA all of about a day to reverse its course and grant the former Marine full and immediate eligibility.
Always one to learn from a previous experience, recently, the NCAA came out and said that a young man named Nathan Harries had to forfeit a year of eligibility for playing in three church league basketball games. I can’t begin to speak about war. I’ve never experienced it. But I can tell you that I’ve experienced plenty of church league basketball games.
Church league is full of undersized former high school stars, church members who happen to be large but have no actual basketball ability, and old men who have two goals: cheap shot anyone in another jersey color and try to cover his opponent in as much of his own sweat and body hair as possible for 40 minutes.
What church league does not have: organized plays, coaching, competent referees, or players that could otherwise be playing in the NCAA. Personally, after years of learning from some of the best in their class, I’m beginning the transition to sweaty-old-man-who-gets-the-occasional-cheap-shot-in status. I belong in church league. Do I blame the Atlanta church league players who recruited Harries to play after returning from his Mormon mission? Not in the slightest. I’ve been around the church league block for a while, and I can tell you that one goal of almost every church league player is to find a ringer that has actually played competitive basketball recently. If I find that guy, I don’t have to concern myself with pretending to play offense anymore. I can go back to focusing on the avoidance of getting boxed out by that mass of moist back hair.
Maybe Harries’ church league experience was a little different than mine, but I’m willing to bet there was at least one guy in his mid-forties who showed up with knee pads and tried to pick a fight with someone half his age.
On October 21st, the NCAA denied a waiver from Colgate to restore Harries’ full eligibility. On November 7th, it reversed its course. Guess when the story broke to the national media? November 6th. Like Ms. Boone before him, Mark Emmert has discovered he doesn’t really have any control. And if he’s going to keep up the façade, he’s going to have to give the people what they want occasionally. Especially if all they want is common sense.
Will the NCAA learn its lesson? Probably not. Will the students in first period math figure out that if they finally revolt, the NCAA will tuck its tail and run home? Hopefully. But until then, at the end of the day, Ms. Boone still collects her check.