[This is my column in the April 16 issue of The Commercial Review.]
Just when I thought the NCAA was heading in the right direction, it throws a curveball.
On Sept. 8, the governing body of college athletics lifted the postseason ban it imposed on Penn State University two years prior.
I had written about the news in a column three days later.
Earlier this month, NCAA president Mark Emmert expressed his concern over Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying the group would determine “how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
This was one of the few instances in which Emmert and the NCAA have been proactive about current events or the conduct of its athletes. The organization — which is based in Indianapolis — has had a history of being reactive, rather than proactive.
And this concern came before lawmakers met after the passing of the RFRA to clarify its language.
But April 5, the NCAA returned to its head-scratching antics.
Silas Nacita, a running back at Baylor University, was ruled permanently ineligible for accepting improper benefits.
Those benefits weren’t lucrative, like a luxury car, some high-end threads or tattoos in exchange for memorabilia.
Nacita was given a place to live, food to eat and some money by some acquaintances in Bakersfield, California.
The amount of financial assistance he received has not yet been disclosed.
Yes, all of which are indeed an NCAA violation, but for the freshman walk-on they were a necessity.
He was homeless when he joined the Bears in June.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Ken Rodriguez, the 21-year-old Nacita slept in ditches and hotel lobbies as he pursued his dream of playing college football.
Those hopes were shattered Feb. 24, when a school official told him he was being removed from the team for breaking the rules.
“At the time I did not think this was inappropriate behavior, but now I can see that I made a mistake by disregarding guidance from Baylor compliance on what benefits I may accept,” Nacita said Feb. 26 via Twitter. “I take full responsibility for my choice to accept these benefits.”
But maybe it’s time to revisit the rule about what constitutes as being an “improper benefit.”
I’ve been fortunate to have a roof over my head all my life. I never went through the day without worrying where I would rest my head at the end of the night.
Additionally, I’ve always been able to have food on my table, whether provided by me, or my parents when I was a child.
I know there are many people who are not afforded those same amenities.
However, a place to sleep and food to eat are basic human rights.
Exceptions to any rule can set an unwanted precedent, and if the NCAA were to allow Nacita to take those benefits without punishment it may lead future athletes to claim homelessness to receive similar gains.
But that’s where the big-wigs in Indianapolis need to start thinking with their hearts and minds and less with the 422-page Division I manual.
Someone shouldn’t be reprimanded for receiving gifts that affect the quality of one’s life, such as food or a place to sleep.