I get it. We get it. The NCAA needs to make some long overdue changes. The Marine that was declared ineligible for Middle Tennessee State Football for playing in the equivalent of a Marine intramural league. That Boise State couldn’t help a homeless recruit that had signed with the institution. Shabazz Napier’s post-title speech on going to sleep hungry. And now, the NCAA “declared” a Baylor football player ineligible for accepting housing, or at least that’s what was initially reported.
Silas Nacita is a Baylor walk-on running back who fell on hard times in his academic pursuit. After transferring from Cornell, he earned an academic scholarship at Baylor, but the scholarship did not cover living expenses. After awhile of couch surfing and failing to find a concrete home, a concerned friend offered to help by providing an apartment. This provided apartment became the center of allegations of extra benefits today (more information on Nacita’s fascinating story here).
Remember, when you see these headline grabbing stories there is always more to the story than the NCAA being an evil puppet master, often times, the NCAA had little involvement. The NCAA’s process frequently gets disregarded when it suits public opinion, which is a common mistake.
The first tweet I saw today on the matter of Silas Nacita, a walk-on football player for Baylor:
NCAA rules formerly homeless @BUFootball RB @Salsa_Nacho ineligible allegedly for accepting place to live. His story: http://t.co/bqGqNvbBnR
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 25, 2015
I see that, and my first thought is justifiably, “What the hell?” I start looking at the story, and see that Baylor is soon to make a statement on the matter, when I find a few minutes later:
“Silas Nacita will not be a part of the football program moving forward due to rules violations that impact his eligibility. We appreciate his contributions to Baylor football and wish him well as he completes his studies.” - Baylor Athletic Director Ian McCaw
Well damn. Not only declared ineligible but booted from the team. But then I start to think about it, you know, after reading a few dozen angry tweets about how ridiculous and satanic the NCAA is. My first thought immediately led to comparing this case with the Boise State homeless prospect, and how this case differs. Is it because in that instance, Boise State was the entity wanting to provide the assistance instead of a third party (booster status unknown)? Boise was in the process of filing a waiver to help, which the NCAA quickly addressed.
That immediately led to my second thought, “How did this violation arise?” The only occasions when the NCAA declares someone ineligible are: (1) based on a prospect’s answers to amateurism certification questions (not the issue here); (2) when they are on campus investigating serious infractions; or (3) when a school self-reports and the NCAA either agrees with the school’s decision, or adds the additional ineligible stipulation. You always hear about cases where the NCAA is investigating on campus: Miami, Penn State, USC, cases that usually lead to someone getting fired, monumental fines, loss of scholarships, etc. The NCAA isn’t reaching out to every Division I campus to personally investigate student-athletes for amateurism violations; they don’t have the manpower or infrastructure to pull that off.
Since I haven’t heard about the NCAA snooping around Baylor, and this student-athlete isn’t a prospect anymore, this would come down to a self-report. As a side note, one thought that occurred to me is that there is missing information here that the public does not know. There could be more violations of amateurism, but a homeless student-athlete being punished for looking after his well being is the best story to fan the flames of public outrage against the NCAA. That leads to the next tweet I saw:
The NCAA did not declare Silas Nacita ineligible and Baylor has not requested a waiver for him.
— NCAA (@NCAA) February 25, 2015
Well that pretty much answers that question. Unless the NCAA is blatantly lying to everyone, this is now a Baylor issue. With that in mind, let me talk about the procedure of a violation.
A school typically discovers a violation either through forms and questionnaires by student-athletes that raise red flags, or a coach, staff member, student-athlete, or third party reporting to the Compliance Office. Notification of a violation will lead to the Compliance Office investigating what happened. When did this occur? What parties are involved? How or why did the violation occur (ignorance of rules, willful act, just not thinking, etc.)? Are there any mitigating factors that lessen the severity of the violation, or remove it from the scope of the legislation?
Once these facts are determined, the institution uses the NCAA’s website RSRO (Requests/Self Reports Online) to report the violation. The norm is to self-impose penalties, to which the hopeful NCAA response is “no further action,” unless they feel that the required level of punishment has not been addressed (usually determined by precedent).
With that in mind, after hearing that a student-athlete has been ruled ineligible, but it is not the NCAA’s doing, focus should turn on the school. Where was the waiver, or any attempt by the institution to provide housing needs? Why has he not only been declared ineligible, but dismissed from the team? We are talking about a Big 12 Academic All-American last year, which would seem to point away from a problem case.
One reason for Silas being both ineligible and off the team involves the NCAA member schools’ de facto tenet of guilty until proven innocent. Ineligible first, questions later frequently occurs due to the penalties enforced upon programs that compete using ineligible players. This infraction can lead to fines and forfeiting wins, which no program ever wants to face. Easier to sit them out now, figure everything out, and bring them back later if possible (see Gurley). This approach punishes the student-athlete without necessarily being “guilty” while protecting the institution. This approach could be Baylor’s attempt to look squeaky clean and transparent considering their other programs’ (both men’s and women’s basketball) recent infraction history. Looking at recent high-profile amateurism violation cases (PJ Hairston), Baylor could have deemed the monetary level of the violation to be past the point of reinstatement.
Option 2 is where people should really take issue, and involves schools truly not caring for its student-athletes. If Baylor is doing this with more concern for the stain on the program (we aren’t even talking competition, we are currently talking spring football), that should not be the approach to take in this era of the NCAA when everyone is blamed for lack of student-athlete welfare. Since this violation occurred last summer, they may well be worried about paying a fine per game Silas competed in, and be looking out for their win/loss in the 2014 season. The cynical approach would say that this heinous decision arises from Baylor’s need of a roster spot for a scholarship player. Get up in arms over that possibility. On the bright side, he is already on a squad list for 2014-15, and spring football is relaxed enough that roster numbers are more fluid (hopefully that fact can rule this sinister theory out).
One final (related) option: most news outlets picked up this story from Nacita’s tweet. Regardless of Baylor’s motivation to declare him ineligible, it does provide a reason (not saying a good one) to remove him from the team. Nacita is a Cornell transfer and Academic All-American, he’s not an idiot. Could he be a scheming genius to force Baylor’s hand via bad press to file a waiver to restore his eligibility? It would remove a gimmick excuse to remove a walk-on from the team. If so, well done Silas. Well done.
Whatever the full story is for Silas Nacita, hopefully it will follow the storyline of the Boise State case: school can’t help homeless player, outrage and uproar, waiver to save the day! The important item to realize regardless of the initial story is that the NCAA has a fairly simple process to follow, and abides by this process regardless of where public opinion might fall along the way.