- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION: 

What do Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch and torturers of small animals have in common?

They all have more heart than the NCAA.

Remarkably, college athletics’ governing board has lowered the bar yet again, a feat that seemed morally impossible. For no other reason than because it can, the NCAA has dashed the aspirations of two more student-athletes, innocent bystanders-turned-victims Sam Cassell Jr. and Myles Davis.

Cassell and Davis graduated from Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass) last spring and accepted basketball scholarships from Maryland and Xavier, respectively. Everything was fine until the NCAA decided — in mid-August! — that Cassell and Davis are ineligible to play in 2012-2013 based on some “core classes” they took in 2010-2011.

This isn’t to suggest that the NCAA should accept and any and all coursework done at prep schools, some of which have been dubbed “diploma mills.” Questionable schools, especially those with athletic prowess and academic rigor at opposite ends of the spectrum, are placed on a “Watch List” and their graduates can lose credit for some classes they passed.

Fine. But don’t wait until mid-August to make that determination, just weeks before college begins. And don’t penalize 20 percent of the players while the other 80 percent continue on their merry way.

That’s what’s so galling about this case. Eight former Notre Dame Prep teammates, a year ahead of Cassell and Davis, took the exact same classes. The NCAA didn’t have a problem with the courses at the time, two years ago. It didn’t indicate that something might be wrong until last winter, when it was too late to do anything about it.

But those eight players who enjoyed freshman seasons at schools such as Marquette, Louisville and Pittsburgh, are preparing for unfettered sophomore campaigns. And Cassell and Davis are deemed as “non-qualifiers,” throwing their plans into chaos.

Through no fault of their own, the duo has been hammered and tossed aside by the NCAA machinery, which seems to enjoy that activity almost as much as counting money. It doesn’t matter that Notre Dame Prep was an approved school at the time. It doesn’t matter that Cassell and Davis followed all the rules. It doesn’t matter that they’re left no option to play at the schools of their choice in the upcoming season.

The only thing that matters is the NCAA displaying its absolute power and absolute control, reminding student athletes that they’re merely pawns — like it or not. Doing the right thing and grandfathering Cassell and Davis is out of the question, because it would appear that the NCAA actually cares about the flesh-and-blood inside each uniform.

Again, I’m all in favor of cracking down on rogue schools that exist merely to guide high school players to college rosters, academics be damned. But Notre Dame Prep wasn’t considered such until after the fact, and that’s not why Cassell went there anyway.

A source with knowledge of the situation said Cassell easily would’ve qualified anywhere if he remained at Baltimore’s St. Frances Academy. But he might not have received offers from Maryland, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, among others. Considered a mid-major recruit at the time, Cassell transferred to Notre Dame for tougher competition and more exposure.

He wasn’t trying to escape real work to squeak by academically, he was trying to attract serious interest from big-time basketball schools.

Maryland filed a waiver, filed an appeal to the waiver and filed an appeal on behalf of Cassell. The NCAA denied, denied and denied. We’re way past the point of being surprised, but the organization’s constant callousness is disappointing nonetheless.

“We’ve exhausted every option and made our best effort,” Terps coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. “I’m very pleased with the work that our compliance staff put in on Sam’s behalf. Obviously, we’re very disappointed that he will be unable to attend the University of Maryland at this time and be a part of our basketball program. We will continue to support Sam and his family in any way that we can as they determine their next steps.”

Davis‘ father reportedly is taking out a $30,000 loan to pay tuition at Xavier while his son sits out this year. Cassell’s future is up in the air; he took summer classes at Maryland but didn’t enroll for the fall semester. He can play at a junior college or a mid-major that accepts partial qualifiers. But the Baltimore native won’t accomplish his childhood dream of playing for the Terrapins, at least not this season, if ever.

“He had his heart set on it,” Washington Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell Sr. told CBSSports.com. “He’s really hurt.”

Chalk up another one for the NCAA: No Compassion At All.