Wiedmer: NCAA and Mocs' Hampton need to help each other

Wiedmer: NCAA and Mocs' Hampton need to help each other

January 31st, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

No two members of college basketball's immediate family need each other more this morning than University of Tennessee at Chattanooga point guard Dontay Hampton and the NCAA.

Thanks to the major knee surgery he'll undergo today, Hampton must convince the NCAA to grant him a sixth year of eligibility or his college career is over.

Conversely, the NCAA should help Hampton in order to show the world that its initials don't stand for No Compassion Allowed Athletes, just one of its many image concerns at the moment.

Hampton's plea would be a simple one. Redshirted as a pure freshman because he was a walk-on from Chattanooga Arts & Sciences and not expected to contribute, the player then had four more years of eligibility under the NCAA's system.

Only Hampton didn't really get a redshirt senior season this year. Instead, he blew out his right knee over the summer, hurried back to help a young team in desperate need of a mature point guard, then endured a broken hand and second ACL tear in his right knee over a span of seven days earlier this month.

"The NCAA's pretty clear on this," said Mocs coach John Shulman on Wednesday. "It's all black and white. There's no gray. But to show you what kind of kid Dontay is, he never even asked about a medical redshirt after he first hurt the knee last summer. He wanted to play this season, he wanted to help this team."

Black and white is what the NCAA used to be before Mark Emmert became its president in 2010 and sought to change both the culture and image of an organization whose rules have seemed to waver between draconian and daffy over much of its existence.

Emmert's goals are both well-intentioned and sorely needed. But the cold reality is that his grand plan appears a sham at the moment. He far overstepped the organization's boundaries regarding Penn State, using what amounted to blackmail to force the PSU brass to accept a brutal penalty over their failure to protect young boys in the child molestation case against former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

The state of Pennsylvania is now going after the NCAA on this issue, quite likely because not a single NCAA rule was broken.

Yet Emmert could at least claim much moral high ground against Joe Pa U. That's not exactly the case in the NCAA's handling of the University of Miami scandal, since Emmert was forced to admit last week that his organization basically hired an attorney for Miami booster Nevin Shapiro so that it might underhandedly obtain evidence in its investigation of the Canes.

That's the same end-justifies-the-means mentality by NCAA member institutions that Emmert sought to stop. Instead, it looks like his gumshoes have decided that if they can't beat the cheaters they'll join them.

Then came Tuesday's news that a judge will allow former athletes to sue the NCAA to receive at least a portion of the money the organization has earned from video games and rebroadcasts of their performances. It doesn't take an magna cum laude to figure out the athletes would next like a cut of live broadcast rights, which run in the billions.

Greedy NCAA.

But helping Hampton and others like him could quite possibly soften the NCAA's image.

First, when it comes to injuries that wipe out at least 75 percent of a player's senior season, allow that player's academic standing and personal character to become key factors in whether or not to grant another year of eligibility. Even rule that no sixth year be granted until the athlete has earned an undergraduate degree.

This isn't expected to be a problem for Hampton, whose grades have always been first-rate and whose character is so exemplary that he turned down scholarships to smaller schools away from this area because he wanted to help raise his younger brother.

Second, if such a waiver is granted, no more than 13 players (the current maximum) can be on scholarship, including transfers or redshirts. And no one can be bumped or pay his own way to make room for a player such as Hampton.

This isn't to say the current rules are entirely wrong. In 99 percent of the cases, five years to play four works. The second NCAA rule stating that medical hardships are only granted when two seasons have been lost to injury also makes sense, since that still leaves an opportunity for four years of play.

But Hampton was a walk-on who averaged five minutes of action his redshirt freshman year, then nine minutes of play his sophomore year. Even his junior year produced less than 17 minutes a night. This was going to be his big season. Then he got hurt. Then he got hurt again. Now he's done without the NCAA's help.

So in the immortal words of Hollywood's fictitious sports agent Jerry Maguire, it's time for both Hampton and the NCAA to, "Help me help you."

Or as UTC interim athletic director Laura Herron said Wednesday, "Dontay Hampton would be the perfect example for the NCAA to use as a student-athlete who deserves a break."

Would be. Should be. But will Emmert and Co. allow him to be?