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Don Owen: While denying Tyler Sharpe eligibility appeal, NCAA completely overlooks common sense

Are you searching for the ultimate irony of sports justice inside the wishy-washy, leaning-tower-of-jello world called the NCAA? Look no further.

It’s on full display simultaneously at Northern Kentucky University and the University of Houston. All you need to do is peer through the NCAA eyepiece nicknamed “betterment of the student-athlete” and you’ll see the contradictory view.

But it’s easier to locate Alpha Centauri with a hand-held magnifying glass than to find common sense through the NCAA’s flawed administrative telescope.

Unfortunately for NKU senior basketball standout Tyler Sharpe, the NCAA’s logic-challenged focus is on the 11 total minutes he played as a freshman walk-on at the University of Louisville. And those seven games — virtually all in mop-up roles — will cost Sharpe a year of eligibility.

NKU’s Tyler Sharpe played against Louisville during the 2018 NIT at the KFC Yum! Center. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Meanwhile, Houston quarterback D’Eriq King — a full scholarship recipient — throws for 663 yards and six touchdowns during the first four games last fall, then suddenly decides to sit out and take a redshirt year. Not for injury. Not for academics. Not for any plausible reason other than to play another season. Which he will now do at Miami (Fla.) this coming fall.

King played in four of the Cougars’ 12 games, which calculates to 33.3 percent of their contests. He started all four games. He took virtually every snap at quarterback in those four games. In addition to the passing stats, he rushed for 312 yards and another six touchdowns. He was Houston’s best player.

But King is allowed, albeit by NCAA rules, to abandon his teammates, coaches and program after playing four games, receive a redshirt season and leave for another school. After a 1-3 start and the ship sinking fast, he headed for the lifeboat of a redshirt season. How’s that for the “all-in” concept of team sports? But don’t blame King for following the outlined rules.

Sharpe, on the other hand, saw action in seven of Louisville’s 34 games, which calculates to 20.6 percent. He scored a grand total of two points. In six of those games, he played one minute. His time on the court during a blowout against Evansville consisted of 45 seconds. It wasn’t even mop-up duty. The reserves were simply running out the final seconds.

Different sports, yes. Same organization, yes. Different set of standards, yes. Rules made for the betterment of its student-athletes? Gimme a break.

Welcome to the scatterbrain world of the NCAA. No Clue At All.

NKU attempted an appeal with the NCAA, hoping to get Sharpe an extra season. The compliance people at Louisville also supported Sharpe’s appeal for a waiver. After all, he played just 11 minutes at Louisville. He wasn’t on scholarship. He even paid his own way to attend Louisville.

But there was no injury involved, so no medical hardship exemption. No redshirt. No exceptions. No waiver. Those 11 minutes cost the former Bullitt East High School star a chance to play another season at NKU, which placed Sharpe on full scholarship after his sophomore campaign.

“The compliance office at Louisville wrote a letter supporting me,” Sharpe said of the appeal. “I got with our compliance team at NKU. They did a great job working with me. Through that process, we felt really good about getting the waiver.

“The opinions we got from third parties that weren’t involved were strong. I felt like I had a good shot at it, but it’s always a coin toss with the waiver appeals. They don’t seem to have much consistency. I tried not to get my hopes up. At the end of the day, the appeal didn’t get accepted, so I had to move on and focus on this season.”

Tyler Sharpe joined NKU’s 1,000-point club earlier this season during a win at BB&T Arena. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

That focus has helped NKU compile a 21-8 record. The Norse have a chance to win a share of the Horizon League regular-season championship this Friday night when Wright State visits BB&T Arena at 7 p.m. NKU is 13-4 in Horizon League play, while Wright State is 14-3. The winner on Friday receives the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Horizon league Tournament.

Sharpe averages 15.2 points per game and leads NKU in 3-pointers made (72), minutes played (34.8 mpg), steals (50) and free throws made (83). He’s also scored at least 30 points five times this season. Sharpe currently ranks 23rd all-time at NKU with 1,154 points.

His overall impact on the NKU program the past three years — all 20-plus-win campaigns — is impossible to gauge because of the intensity and toughness he displays each game. They don’t keep statistics for guys who continue to play after having seven staples applied to close cuts on the side of their head at halftime.

Tyler Sharpe did just that last season.

Not that those who make eligibility decisions would care, but Sharpe battled through Crohn’s disease to become a star at Bullitt East. He shrugged off skepticism about his ability to play Division I basketball and emerged as a member of NKU’s 1,000-point club. He goes to class. He’s respectful of opponents during press conferences. He even signs autographs for little kids after games — win or lose.

All of that means nothing when contrasted to those 11 total minutes played at Louisville. Just ask the NCAA. Who cares that a 17-year-old kid in high school was following a dream?

“When I got to Louisville, I was star-struck,” Sharpe admitted, noting the Cardinals’ history of walk-on players who had made big contributions. “I’d dreamed of being at a school like Louisville. When the opportunity came to me, I jumped at it. I was ready to work and to grind for a role.”

At the end of that freshman season, though, Sharpe realized there were no guarantees. “I was given the opportunity to compete for my walk-on spot, but I was told another person had been promised a spot in the team,” he said. “So instead of risking it, going through that grind and being told you weren’t on the team, I decided to transfer and use that experience to find another landing spot.”

He landed at NKU. And the BB&T Arena faithful are thankful that Sharpe found a home in Highland Heights. They’ll get a chance to say farewell Friday night in his home finale. But they’ll also have more opportunities to see him play, beginning on March 9 at Indianapolis in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals.

As far as the NCAA on this matter? The beleaguered organization means well. It was formed with noble intentions. Now, it’s a jumbled mess bursting with bad decisions. Denying Tyler Sharpe a waiver because of 11 minutes is another example of an organization that has lost touch with common sense.

So, who exactly makes the NCAA rules? Here’s what the organization says: “Member representatives serve on committees that propose rules and policies surrounding college sports. Members ultimately decide which rules to adopt – everything from recruiting and compliance to academics and championships – and implement them on campus.”

Two of those members, Louisville and NKU, were in agreement that Tyler Sharpe deserved another season of eligibility. They presented the facts. Getting a waiver for Sharpe should’ve been a home run.

Instead, the NCAA struck out. Again.

Tyler Sharpe currently ranks 23rd all-time at NKU with 1,154 points. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Sharpe, who will graduate this spring, remains upbeat and has no regrets about the 11 minutes he played at Louisville. But like so many others, he’s also confused by the NCAA’s inconsistency.

“I don’t know exactly how the process works behind the scenes, but I do feel like a lot of people are pushing for change,” said Sharpe, who is fully aware of the numerous situations in which eligibility waivers were granted for vague reasons at other schools. “Hopefully the NCAA will be receptive and start clearing up some of the rules.”

How’s this for NCAA clarity? Since the Tyler Sharpe verdict is in, let’s peek inside the NCAA telescope. Maybe we can better understand the rationalization of those committee members dedicated to the betterment of the student-athlete:

“Tyler Sharpe, you are guilty of playing an entire season at Louisville. Even if it did consist of just seven games, and 11 total minutes. You did play five minutes against Pitt. You even scored a basket in that game. The fact you were a walk-on is irrelevant. Appeal denied.”

As for D’Eriq King? He gets a fifth year. Err, my mistake. Four full years, plus the four games in which he accounted for more than 900 total yards and 12 touchdowns before deciding to redshirt in 2019. As an added bonus, King gets to transfer to Miami (Fla.) with immediate eligibility. Confused yet?

In the meantime, the NCAA will keep searching for Alpha Centauri, with its sights squarely focused on the (football) stars. After all, common sense is in another universe, and it’s not likely to pop into view for those utilizing such a flawed administrative telescope.

While at NKU, Tyler Sharpe (15) has competed in both the NIT and the NCAA Tournament. The Norse are currently 21-8 and play host to Wright State at 7 p.m. Friday at BB&T Arena. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

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  1. Fred Handelman says:

    Basically the NCAA has no idea what they are supposed to be doing anymore. They have so many diiferent rules in place that they are starting to contradict each other. One person says apply this rule ,another says no, it’s this rule and then a committee says your both wrong it’s this rule. What a mess. Maybe they should all run for congress they would fit in great with Mitch and his gang.

  2. Andy Dyer says:

    It would be great if more people did their homework on what and who the NCAA is and how appeals in different sports are handled and that includes famous sports pundits and athletes. No one gets pulled over and tells the officer that the he or she makes stupid rules and he or she should be able to change them at any time. You don’t want to live in that world. The NCAA is not an independent institution; it is the legislative enforcement body created by the member institutions to manage college sports. Each and every rule was written and proposed and discussed and voted on by the member institutions at the annual conventions. It is a process and is not subject to whim or opinion. The NCAA office has the responsibility of applying the rules rather than allowing individual member institutions to interpret the rules as they see fit. The NCAA does not make the rules nor does it not get to change rules that seem stupid in one particular instance; it must go through a recognized and appropriate system. You may not like the rules and occasionally they may seem unfair, but the NCAA is responsible for the welfare of 400,000+ athletes across three divisions and over 80 sports. It’s easy to criticize in the moment. If you want change, there is a way to go about it, but it won’t be based on the opinion of a single person. That is the strength of the system.

  3. NCAA-are-crooked says:

    To add to the confusion, The NCAA killed USC football because Reggie Bush’s parents got money in San Diego saying the university should have known, and parents impact the player. But at Auburn they found Cam Newton’s dad was selling him and said parent isn’t the player. Auburn has him sit out during week, get immediate reinstatement, never miss a game, go on to win. No penalty. Go figure.

  4. Kevin davis says:

    Andy, Yet the NCAA let Chris Vogt transfer with no reason other than his coach left. That is not a condition that allows immediate eligibility. They don’t apply their rules evenly in most cases.

    • Andy Dyer says:

      Kevin, I don’t know the details on the Chris Vogt transfer, but it certainly isn’t comparable to the Tyler Sharpe appeal. It appears Vogt was granted the “one time exception”. Specifically, all athletes can transfer to any school they want, but are barred from playing after a lateral transfer for one year. However, this can be appealed and they can play immediately IF the home school agrees to it. This power to deny allows the home school to prevent an athlete that they recruited from jumping to a competitor school and playing against the home school. However, this exception can only be used once. A second transfer will be an automatic loss of a year. In the Tyler Sharpe situation, he is asking for a 5th year of eligibility because of lack of playing time over the course of an entire season. This is not only completely different, but is governed by completely different rules because there is no such thing as a 5th year of eligibility. And so the request is to cancel the freshman year. If he had another year available, he could play immediately because he would qualify as a graduate transfer.

    • Eric Arnett says:

      Andy, this is a different situation but it does demonstrate that in the NCAA the rules are the rules, when it’s convenient or when the NCAA wants them to be, but they are also really just a suggestion and the NCAA can do whatever it sees fit.

      Applying the same rule the NCAA allowed Chris Vogt immediate eligibility and denied Evina Westbrook.

  5. Sharon L. Bowns says:

    I understand why rules are made. But, why are certain schools allowed to skirt those rules. Ie: Chris Vogt played at NKU…John Brannen was the Coach at the time. Brannen accepts an offer at UC. Vogt played … plays as he makes a lateral move from one Division 1 school to another. I wish Chris and John the best of luck but why didn’t Chris sit out a year? Believe me, he played way more minutes than 11.

  6. Andy Dyer says:

    At EVERY university there is at least one Compliance Officer whose job it is to make sure the rules concerning eligibility are being followed. Those people know the rules inside and out and most are in contact with the NCAA offices on a regular basis to make sure they have them right. Also, the rules manual for all three NCAA divisions are free downloads for anyone interested. It isn’t easy reading, but it also isn’t theoretical physics. The rule governing “minutes played” does not exist and that’s why it’s hard to understand when someone is making an argument based on minutes played. All players spend a year of eligibility if they are rostered and on the bench for a certain percentage of the season. Playing time is not the relevant factor. Look at the Louisville example here: there are 15 on the roster. The 5 starters are getting 150 of the 200 minutes per game. The other 10 players split the remaining 50 minutes and the majority are usually going to about 4 players. Regardless of playing time, once a player has been officially involved in a certain percent of the season, they have committed a year of eligibility. If the NCAA rule was based on total or average minutes played, 3-6 players on almost every team could argue that they should not be charged a year of eligibility even though they spent a year in every other way as active members of the team. However, every one of them can appeal through their school to the NCAA and each appeal is taken seriously. There are over 1000 men’s college basketball teams and 15,000+ players and the rules are applied as uniformly and fairly as possible.

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