NCAA troubles TCU tennis team

The TCU tennis team has run into a lot of problems with the National Collegiate Athletic Association recently, but coaches and players are wondering if it could be the association’s fault.An international student who spoke only if he would remain nameless who played tennis in his home country while enrolled in a university Romania accepted prize money for his sport as a student-athlete. In his country it was legal to do so.

Upon coming to TCU to play tennis, he filed the necessary forms to explain to NCAA that he had accepted money while abroad, because in America it is an illegal action to do so. NCAA compliance rules state a student playing collegiate athletics in the United States cannot earn money from his or her ability as an athlete.

Even though international students are not under NCAA jurisdiction while attending college out of the U.S., the normal procedure for an international student who wants to play in America is to pay back the money he or she earned abroad before they can be eligible to play. The money is supposed to go to a charity of the athlete’s choice.

However, it appeared the NCAA let his earnings slide because the player was cleared to play without paying the money. But suddenly during his senior year, NCAA declared him ineligible for the money he won several years ago unless he paid $2,500, a rough estimate of his earnings.

Now many in the athletics department are asking why this circumstance wasn’t caught much earlier.

Andrea Nordmann, the associate director of athletic compliance for TCU, said NCAA has the right to inquire about any NCAA student-athlete at any time of the athlete’s collegiate career, but that there are a daunting number of rules for athletes and coaches keep track of.

“It’s tough,” Nordmann said. “There are some guidelines out there, but there are so many circumstances.

“As members of the NCAA, we (TCU) provide the information and let them (NCAA) make the decisions.”

Nordmann said this could create an unfair advantage to foreign students who get “caught” and others who get away with keeping the money they earned abroad.

“Some coaches question the fairness of the rules, especially that they might be playing against an international student they think is ineligible.”

The men’s tennis head coach, Dave Borelli, said the NCAA rule to pay back prize money isn’t always followed through with.

“There are a lot of kids in this country based on this (rule) that are not eligible right now, but they’re playing and not giving money back,” Borelli said. “There are some that made $20, $30 or $40 thousand dollars in tournaments and aren’t paying that back.”

In this case, the TCU athlete paid his $2,500 and is allowed to finish playing his senior year.

Nordmann said it is easier for international students to get trapped by this regulation because rules for student-athletes typically change with borders.

“International students don’t know about the NCAA. That’s why they’re allowed to repay and be re-instated. But if you’re enrolled in a college under the NCAA, there’s the thought of ‘you should have known better,'” she said.

But even for national students, the 476-page NCAA manual can be intimidating.

Another men’s tennis player, freshman Jack Seider from Austin, Texas, has had to sit out this year as well-his first season at TCU-due to a nuance about home schooling.

NCAA states a student must finish his or her high school education in eight semesters, with the exception of extenuating circumstances such as home schooling or finishing high school in good standing.

In Seider’s case, he transferred from a public school to home school for academic reasons and finished in good standing, according to Borelli.

Borelli said although Seider’s situation fits the exceptions to the rule, appealing it hasn’t been easy.

“One person made the decision he was ineligible, then we went to a NCAA committee and waited three weeks for them to reinforce that person’s decision-that was a waste of time,” Borelli said of the process.

Now, Borelli and Seider, who started this process in January, have appealed to another committee composed of actual professors and administrators.

The committee was supposed to rule on Seider’s case this past Wednesday, but as of Friday, both coach and player had not heard anything.

“We’re still waiting for these people to make a decision on his life,” Borelli said.

Borelli said he faults the NCAA for letting people who are so far removed from the athletes make the decisions.

“The people deciding on the eligibility are not the coaches, not the presidents, not the athletic directors, but people hired by the NCAA as an outer body not affiliated with athletics or the universities,” he said.

Borelli, who calls the NCAA a “stumble and fall” organization, said he thinks the NCAA would be fairer and more efficient if it allowed college coaches to rule on a player’s eligibility.

“(The NCAA is) not looking at their mission statement, which is the well-being of the student-athlete,” Borelli said. “I wish I could make these decisions because I could do a better job.”

Macall Harkins, a female tennis player who is a transfer from the University of Illinois, said the NCAA needs to give more jurisdiction to its players.

Harkins transferred to TCU after her sophomore year, but is sitting out her junior year because Illinois refused to release her.

“(The NCAA) give(s) all the power to the school, and they have nothing for the players who are playing for them,” Harkins said. “There was no reason not to release me.”

Borelli said there are a lot of problems with the institution that have yet to be resolved but in the meantime are affecting players’ lives.

“It’s part of a process; a long process,” he said. “If I wasn’t patient, I’d probably jump off a cliff.”

“Eventually one day, probably when I’m retired, it’ll all work out,” he said.