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Don Owen: Here’s a chance for the NCAA to redeem itself — and senior athletes — with eligibility relief

Common sense has never been one of the redeeming qualities of the NCAA in its attempt to govern collegiate sports at member institutions. That’s not debatable.

Too many laughable rules and a litany of scandals have hurt the organization’s credibility in recent years. Cheating and many NCAA programs are as synonymous as garbage cans and the Houston Astros.

And, in case you haven’t noticed, the NCAA rules enforcement staff is very selective in who gets punished (California Polytechnic State for book stipend violations) and who gets a free pass (LSU, Kansas, Arizona, to name just a few). Forget the visual, audio and documented evidence.

Unless it’s those cheats at Cal Poly SLO trying to get book stipends for its student-athletes. A violation, by the way, that Cal Poly SLO self-reported.

NKU’s Dantez Walton is one of numerous senior basketball players who would benefit from eligibility relief the NCAA is considering. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

But, as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA does have a chance to hit a grand slam in the public relations department of human decency. It will take a bit of common sense to actually make contact with this pitch, but here it comes:

Grant every senior basketball player whose team was bound for the postseason (NCAA or NIT) another year of eligibility. Same for the seniors in spring sports who had their seasons wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

College administrators are coming out in support of this idea. So are numerous head coaches. Former basketball coaches and players now in television are in agreement it’s a great idea. Commissioners from several conferences say it needs to happen.

UConn women’s head coach Geno Auriemma encapsulated it best by stating, “This is an unprecedented event, and it takes unprecedented measures.”

On Friday, the NCAA Division I Council Committee recommended that eligibility relief be provided to all participants in spring sports. Committee chair Dr. M. Grace Calhoun wrote in an email that the committee will “also discuss issues related to seasons of competition for winter sport student-athletes who were unable to participate in conference and NCAA championships.”

OK, that’s a good start. But don’t just stop at discussing those issues that concern winter sport student-athletes, and then, in typical NCAA fashion, walk away without doing something that’s right.

Let’s say it again: Grant every senior basketball player whose team was bound for the postseason (NCAA or NIT) another year of eligibility.

Here’s the windup, and the pitch is on its way to the plate. The NCAA doesn’t even need to use a Houston Astros-like cheating device to hit this delivery out of the ballpark. It’s a batting practice, 75-MPH soft-toss that should be clobbered by those using common sense. And, more importantly, adhering to human decency.

NKU’s Tyler Sharpe is another senior who would welcome eligibility relief from the NCAA. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Jose Altuve could knock this one out of the park while wearing earplugs, blinders and a transparent T-shirt. But, can those who make decisions at the NCAA?

I have serious doubts. It’s too simple and yields to compassion instead of relying on a rules manual. A rules manual, by the way, that’s antiquated, outrageously lengthy and mocked by many NCAA members in private. But I digress.

From a local perspective, I’m certain Northern Kentucky University would welcome the news that Dantez Walton, Tyler Sharpe and Karl Harris have the option to return in 2020-21. They did nothing wrong. Their season wasn’t over, either.

NKU won the Horizon League Tournament championship. The Norse earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Walton, Sharpe and Harris have not been given the opportunity to complete their final season. Neither have numerous others who participate in winter sports.

Now, the NCAA can step in the batter’s box and fix that problem. The pitch is floating toward the plate, just waiting to get pounded out of the park.

All it takes is some common sense and human decency to make contact.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

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