- - Wednesday, January 9, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The real reason for shame in Alabama has nothing to do with Clemson’s rout in the College Football Playoff National Championship game on Monday. That was just two outstanding teams in honest competition on a level playing field, with the super-talented Tigers playing extraordinarily well.

The matchup that should totally embarrass state residents is the Alabama High School Athletic Association against senior basketball star Maori Davenport. It’s an example of a youngster — one of the nation’s best prep players — being steamrolled by power-hungry adults, led by AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese.

In case you missed it, Davenport represented her country in August and helped lead Team USA to the Under-18 gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico City. USA Basketball sent her a check for $857.20, a stipend offered to players who participate in summer programs. That was a no-no.

“It was not a purposeful error,” USA Basketball spokesman Craig Miller told ESPN. “We didn’t realize she had high school eligibility remaining, and it’s absolutely our mistake.”

USA Basketball caught the blunder in November and notified Charles Henderson High School in Troy, Alabama, as well as the AHSAA. Davenport’s mother wrote a reimbursement check immediately and sent it back via express delivery, which should be where this story ends.



But, no. Savarese declared on Nov. 30 that the Rutgers recruit was ineligible and issued a one-year suspension that ended Davenport’s senior season after four games. And just to make sure that Savarese wasn’t alone in his unreasonable and unwarranted abuse of power, more crazed adults joined him and upheld the ruling in two appeals.

An AHSAA district board, and then its central board, each agreed — by unanimous vote! — that Davenport’s one-year suspension should stand.

Infuriated yet?

“Everybody had their guard down,” Davenport’s AAU coach Beverly King told ESPN. “Because the money came from USA Basketball, they automatically thought it was legit. … But the AHSAA said that because the check was cashed, it makes her ineligible.”

The decision makes absolutely no sense. Put another way, it’s utter nonsense.

Through no fault of her own, Davenport is being punished for USA Basketball’s honest mistake. She did nothing wrong, but she’s missing her opportunity to help Henderson defend its first-ever state title. Additionally, the potential honors of being a McDonald’s All-American and Alabama Miss Basketball have been jeopardized.

Savarese has a bright future if he aspires to work at the next level.

The NCAA is fond of decisions that reach beyond the bounds of reason to crush young people in mean-spirited ways. From rules on transfers to impermissible benefits, athletes routinely are penalized unfairly, while the adults behave like spoiled children who don’t know how to play nice.

“My charge is to uphold the rules,” Savarese told ESPN. “What if I said ‘no’? What if I let her play? If I make an exception to one rule, it opens up a Pandora’s box on all of our rules. How could I enforce any rule? If I made an exception here, I would be arbitrary and capricious.”

Here’s your arbitrary: The AHSAA rulebook states that players who use their knowledge of athletics or athletic skill for gain are ineligible. However, the same rules also allow athletes in Davenport’s position to accept a $250 stipend.

If USA Basketball had done what it was supposed to do — call the AHSAA to ascertain the acceptable amount — Davenport would still be in uniform. Instead, she’s in street clothes on Henderson’s bench.

Davenport wasn’t the only Team USA member who erroneously received a check for $857.20 (which, by the way, doesn’t offend the NCAA or impact athletes’ college eligibility). Ayana Peoples, a Notre Dame recruit, also received the stipend and immediately repaid it.

But Peoples suffered no repercussions and remains on the floor for Schlarman Academy, in Danville, Illinois. The difference?

The Illinois officials have some sense that isn’t common in Alabama.

Savarese and the AHSAA need a primer on the concept of “spirit of the law.” They need a refresher on fairness, character and integrity. They need a reminder of what it’s like to be a high school senior, living your best life and doing the right things while preparing for college.

They need to remember that their job is to protect the best interests of students and schools, not neglect them.

Everyone else understands. The WNBA, Spalding, and NBA star Chris Paul are among the horde expressing outrage over Davenport’s suspension. Approximately 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for her reinstatement. The hashtags “Free Maori” and “Let Maori Play” have created a forum on social media.

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide teams have represented the state well, notwithstanding Monday’s blowout. But Savarese, who claims to be the sole authority on Davenport’s eligibility, has made Alabama a national disgrace. Nice job, Steve.

The decision should be reversed immediately.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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