The NCAA Got It Right: Masoli Should Be Ineligible at Ole Miss
In a move that renders moot all of Ole Miss' attempted machinations to get former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli eligible for the 2010 football season, the NCAA ruled Masoli ineligible for this year. Masoli can go on scholarship immediately, but he has to sit out a year before he'd be able to take the field as a fifth-year senior in 2011. Ole Miss has appealed the ruling. But, in this particular instance, the NCAA made the correct decision.
For starters, the graduate transfer rule is frequently abused and many players who have graduated in three years have taken advantage of it. The graduate transfer rule allows a player who has graduated from one institution to transfer to another institution without sitting out a year if that institution features a course of graduate study not offered at the first institution. In practice, this makes three-year college grads free agents in their fourth year.
Suddenly, voila, you develop an interest in the one or two graduate courses not offered at your present university. Look around and, wow, it's offered at another school that has less depth at your position. In Masoli's case, it meant he was fulfilling a lifelong educational dream by enrolling in the graduate program in parks and recreation at Ole Miss. (Presumably the University of Oregon's shrubbery is in a considerable state of disrepair). As a side benefit to the educational opportunity, wink, wink, Masoli would be able to take the field for the Rebels in the fall.
All he needed was for the NCAA to approve his transfer waiver.
But Masoli represents a unique precedent. Yes, he graduated from Oregon in three years, which makes him eligible to transfer and play immediately, but he isn't eligible to continue playing football at Oregon because he's been dismissed from the team. Put succinctly, Masoli's situation has never happened before: a player smart enough to graduate in three years from college, yet also dumb enough to need to transfer because of two run-ins with the court system. Included is one guilty plea that left him unable to play football in 2010 at his former university (as he was kicked off the team).
That left the NCAA in a bind. Apply the bogus transfer rule and its fig leaf of a justification -- that the reason the player switched institutions was because he wished to pursue a course of study not offered at his present university -- becomes even more absurd. That's because Masoli represents a dual delegitimization of the transfer rule. Masoli is transferring to Ole Miss because he a) wishes to pursue a course of graduate study not offered at his own school and b) can't play football anywhere unless he gets that transfer.
Quoth the NCAA on the result:
"In its decision, the staff noted the student-athlete was unable to participate at the University of Oregon based on his dismissal from the team, which is contrary to the intent of the waiver. The waiver exists to provide relief to student-athletes who transfer for academic reasons to pursue graduate studies, not to avoid disciplinary measures at the previous university."
Rule otherwise and effectively the transfer loophole rule is expanded to an even greater degree -- graduate in three years from a university and you can immediately play a fourth year at any institution provided you aren't serving time in jail. Read in this light, the NCAA's ruling requires that the transfer rule not exist as a means to avoid an existing punishment levied at a previous university. For most objective readers, that reasoning makes sense. The intent of the rule matters, and Masoli's situation was not within that intent.
But, and here's the rub, that limiting language is not actually in the transfer rule. So does the NCAA exist to formally apply the rules or to functionally apply the rules? And here you could start a war with lawyers. Form vs. function, the Supreme Court's Antonin Scalia vs. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, what is the job of a person or judicial body when it comes to applying a set of rules?
Ultimately, the NCAA has the power to functionally apply the rules -- which is why it has to grant the waiver in the first place. A player may receive a transfer waiver from the general rule that requires a player to sit out a year before playing, but he isn't guaranteed one. Ole Miss wants a rubber stamp on every graduate transfer -- at least in this case, I suspect it would feel differently if Masoli was trying to get eligible at, say, Mississippi State -- while the NCAA is insisting on the right to examine the circumstances surrounding the transfer.
The NCAA's decision, predictably, left Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt all atwitter.
"We're in the people-helping business," Nutt said
By which Nutt meant he is in the business of helping people who give him a better chance to win football games. He continued: "We're trying to make a difference in young peoples' lives. That's what we do. I really wish the (appeals) committee would look very very hard at it. He's done everything the right way." Presumably by "everything the right way," Nutt means since the arrest, guilty plea, and drug possession citation in Oregon this past spring.
Despite Nutt's plea, Masoli's expressed graduate study interest in parks and recreation, significantly, isn't at issue. Nor is his ability to transfer, accept a scholarship, practice with the team, pursue his chosen course of graduate study, or play football. All the NCAA has limited with this ruling is the year that Masoli can play, 2011 instead of 2010.
That seems eminently fair. After all, if Nutt really is in the "people-helping business" now he'll have two years to help Masoli at Ole Miss instead of one.
Plus if Masoli is so enamored with parks and recreation at Ole Miss, he can work on that graduate degree for a year and take the field for the Rebels come 2011. If he isn't, then he can sit out a year back at Oregon and be eligible to play there in 2011, assuming coach Chip Kelly is willing to take him back.
Or he can leave school and pursue a career as he sees fit without playing college football again. What he can't do is skip his football punishment by leaping from one school to another without sitting out a year because of the graduate transfer rule. As I wrote last month, I'm not against Jeremiah Masoli using the transfer rule to his benefit, but upon closer examination, I think the NCAA ruled correctly in this case. The only way that Masoli could play football this year wasn't just by exploiting a rule, but by exploiting the intent of a rule that already exploited a rule. Eventually, that was just too much exploitation. Even for the NCAA.
It's easy to criticize the NCAA, but in this case that criticism is misguided. The NCAA made the correct ruling on Jeremiah Masoli and used his particular precedent to avoid expanding the intent of an already abused rule. Sometimes, believe it or not, the NCAA makes the right decision.