By Grant Abston, Sports Editor
In 2006, Raymon McElrathbey, football player at Clemson University, took over custody of his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr, who had been in and out of foster care in Atlanta, their hometown.
Their father was addicted to gambling, and their mother was a crack cocaine addict, according to a report on si.com. However, Raymon took matters into his own hands when he decided to give his brother a new life after receiving a scholarship to Clemson, becoming his legal guardian and allowing his brother to live with him after the NCAA granted him a waiver.
In 2007, Herman Mitchell, linebacker from Houston who committed to the University of Oklahoma, was shot and killed before stepping foot on Oklahoma’s campus. An Oklahoma booster immediately began to raise funds for Mitchell’s family to help pay for funeral expenses; however, Oklahoma officials told the booster his actions violated NCAA rules. But despite the initial violation, the NCAA granted a waiver and allowed the university to help pay for funeral expenses.
Just recently, ACU was hit with different penalties after a number of violations that occurred with the track and field and football programs. One infraction committed by ACU occurred when members of the track and field team received money as a gift at two Christmas parties. These gifts were given to many of the international student-athletes as well as international students who were not athletes. An ACU booster also provided transportation locally and outside Abilene and provided the student-athlete cash to cover medical costs and bicycle repairs. The difference: ACU was given no waiver.
While ACU’s situation cannot be compared to the ones that occurred at Clemson and Oklahoma, I think it is important to consider each situation in its own context rather than looking strictly at the rules that were broken. In Raymon and Mitchell’s circumstances, the traditionally cold-hearted NCAA decided to re-evaluate the situation, eventually granting waivers. Raymon was granted an NCAA waiver that allowed him to accept monetary aid from the university and the public in the form of a trust fund for his brother, as well as receive home care for his brother from coaches’ families, while he was at football practice or class. At Oklahoma, the NCAA granted a waiver that allowed any funds raised by the booster to be transferred to the university to help pay for the funeral expenses. As we know, ACU was penalized for the infractions and is not considering an appeal for the track and field program. But should the above cases even have to request a waiver for charitable actions?
I write about these situations not to provide an excuse for ACU’s actions but to recognize the difficulties the NCAA can impose on universities that face unique situations. The NCAA enforces a number of rules for specific reasons, and many of these rules are in place to ensure student-athletes do not gain an illegal competitive advantage. Whether ACU committed infractions is not the question for discussion; rather, should ACU be penalized for displaying an attitude that is expressed in the title of the university – Christian?
Consider international athletes’ situations when looking at the context of the NCAA rulebook. Many of these students do not have the opportunity to return home throughout their ACU careers. These student-athletes do not typically celebrate Christmas, or any holidays for that fact, and do not have the opportunities the traditional student has to spend time out of town or with family over the holidays, unless invited by an outside family. While ACU was punished for these students receiving gifts at a Christmas party held at a church, I believe the NCAA has failed to look out for the best interest of its student-athletes. The act committed by the international student-athletes at ACU in no way aided their academic or athletic performances. These students were simply on the other end of a kind gesture extended to them at a church Christmas party.
Attending a Christian university poses many interesting questions, and one is the treatment of student-athletes. The hosts of the Christmas party demonstrated a Christ-like attitude in providing a meaningful Christmas for a group of student-athletes who do not have the opportunity to return home, sometimes for a number of years. As I stated earlier, I am not writing to give an excuse for the violations that occurred. I am writing to say the NCAA should consider the motives behind every violation.
The NCAA Web site states the core purpose of the NCAA is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount. In ACU’s case, the NCAA failed to do so.