In our ongoing search for the silliest, goofiest, and, let’s face it … dumbest of NCAA rules, rulings, and bylaws, our next stop takes us to Cincinnati, Ohio. The home of Skyline Chili and The Big Red Machine (along with a seemingly endless and futile search for a viable NFL quarterback, but I digress) is also host to one of the most recent NCAA-created head-scratchers.
With this in mind, I present the case of Jamaree Strickland, a hulking 6-11, 270-pound freshman center for the Cincinnati Bearcats. The 3-star big man (as rated by Rivals.com) spent the first two years of his high school career at McClymonds High School in his native Oakland, Calif.
Concerned over the academic reputation of McClymonds, however, Strickland's parents - Stacey Strickland and Joseph Augustine - decided to move Jaramee to a school that supposedly had a better academic reputation, MetWest High School. Unfortunately, Jamaree tore his ACL after the move, causing him to miss all his junior year, and all but six games of his senior campaign.
After such a long layoff and with his dream of playing Division 1 basketball in increasing jeopardy, Jamaree and his family decided that he’d need to spend a year in prep school to increase his visibility to college basketball recruiters. After weighing their options, Strickland and his family decided he'd attend Queen City Prep in Harrisburg, N.C. There, he averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots per game.
Everything seemed to be going well, and Strickland’s move to Queen City looked to have paid off, as he was recruited by several high-major schools. He ultimately chose between Cal and Cincinnati, picking the Bearcats in the end.
The perfect storybook ending, yes?
Well, as you've no doubt guessed (aided by the knowledge that the letters “N” and “C” and “A” and “A” are involved and appearing in exact sequential order), it’s a good bet not.
During the process of matriculating to the Cincinnati campus, Jeremee was informed that the NCAA had issues with credit he received in two of his classes during his two-year stint at MetWest, the school to which his parents had moved him because of its superior academic reputation.
Now, it’s important to note that kids are declared ineligible by the NCAA all the time. Transfers are becoming more and more commonplace in college, becoming almost a defacto free agency for D-1 programs. But transfers are even more the norm in high school athletics, where they’ve reached a downright epidemic level at the high school level, notably involving some of the top talent in the nation.
Some of the most recruited athletes in the nation have attended 3, 4, 6, sometimes even more, high schools during their prep careers. Some are cleared by the NCAA, others are not. There appears to be neither rhyme nor reason to the process; just ask the affected student-athletes, their families, or the coaches and colleges, all of whom are held captive to the system.
Still, the fact that Strickland was declared ineligible was not exactly breaking news. Like I said, that happens all the time. Lots of times it seems completely arbitrary at first (or second or third or fourth) glance, but it happens.
What makes this case particularly excruciating is not just the decision to make Strickland ineligible to play this season; the NCAA has further declared that he is not even able to practice with the team or sit on its bench. He can receive no coaching, and he cannot be present in team meetings.
So when the No. 15 Bearcats play, you won’t find Jamaree in the huddle. Or even waving a towel in support of his teammates from the bench.
Instead, you’ll find him in the stands, cheering like any other fan. And that’s just for Cincinnati's home games. For road games, you’ll likely find him in his dorm room, or shooting by himself … as he’s not allowed to even shoot around at Fifth Third Arena if any of his teammates or coaches are present, due to the NCAA’s mandate.
Cincinnati and its coach Mick Cronin appealed this ruling several times, and each time those appeals were denied, despite over 2000 pages of documentation supporting the academic validity of the two courses in question that Jaramee took at MedWest.
So the net effect is that Jamaree is radioactive. He's a refugee at his own school, unable to participate … to even be in the same room when other Bearcat players are receiving instruction, because of this NCAA ruling.
So now, like a team with a lead late in a game, Strickland is left waiting for the clock to run down, so he can finally … after 3 long years … feel like he’s part of a team, and not just part of a school. But he hasn't felt like he's been winning. He's felt betrayed - even depressed, according to his parents - due this this struggle against what appears to be a silly stipulation of a rule.
As is the case with so many instances of NCAA rulings, I'm struck by the sheer needlessness of it all. Should not the sense of things count for anything? It appears not, with the seemingly endless litany of double-take decrees passed down from the Indianapolis mother ship regarding the lives of student-athletes.
Perhaps it's time for colleges and universities, the bodies actually in the business of evaluating candidates for admittance to their institutions, to be trusted with this duty? Each school does this with the vast majority of their general student bodies. What's the disadvantage of removing the monolithic NCAA from the eligibility process altogether?
As Jay Bilas artfully stated recently to our own David Glenn,
"It's time we stay in our own lanes. The NCAA is made up of a bunch of accredited institutions that are autonomous in every way except for athletics ... We don't need to tell each other what athletes qualify to come into our school and get educated or how we should educate them. The accreditation services (at each school) can handle all that stuff."
Given recent meetings, hope springs eternal that some degree of sanity and common sense can soon enter the picture, replacing the almost Orwellian, bureaucratic status quo.
But even if much-needed changes to the fundamental structure of the NCAA occur, those course corrections will arrive too late to be of consequence for a lot of student-athletes.
Student-athletes such as Jamaree Strickland, for instance.