Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: The NCAA is right to crack down on transfer waivers, but wrong in denying RaeQuan Battle his

MORGANTOWN — It is an unfortunate situation RaeQuan Battle finds himself in today, as the WVU guard is just a little more than 24 hours in dealing with being told by the NCAA he will not be eligible to play college basketball this season.

WVU is appealing that decision to the NCAA Committee for Legislative Relief, but for those who may be holding out hope the decision will be reversed, please don’t gamble good money on it.

All of the above is simply the lead, a summary of sorts that in no way comes close to encapsulating the entirety of Battle’s case or who he is.

We’ll try to accomplish that the rest of the way here, but in doing so, the state of affairs with the NCAA waiver process can’t simply be ignored.

To list all that ills the NCAA as a governing organization would take up way too much space.

In general, why the NCAA takes one public relations hit after another — and WVU fans have been busy on social media blasting the NCAA since Battle’s waiver was denied — is because it has spent decades being dangerously vague on important issues.

What does that mean?

Well, the official NCAA rulebook is hundreds and hundreds of pages that cover every imaginable topic from recruiting periods to drug testing to practice time to equipment used all the way down to the kinds of food that can be served to student-athletes at dinner.

Some of these topics — the rather inane ones usually — will be covered with subheads and subheads to the subhead of the original rule to make sure all bases have been covered.

Yet when it comes to the rather juicy topics, much like transfer waivers, but also matters dealing with suspensions and penalties for recruiting violations — we see you Bill Self — the NCAA’s manual isn’t quite as thorough.

Rather than spelling everything out, the NCAA leaves the bulk of the work up to committees to make their own interpretations and judgments on a case-by-case basis.

Which is where we come back to Battle.

Back in March, the NCAA sent out a memo to all of its Division I schools signifying a stand the organization was going to take against student-athletes transferring more than once while still an undergraduate.

Battle is exactly that. He’s already played at Washington and Montana State. WVU is his third school and he’s yet to earn a college degree.

On the surface, the NCAA should actually be applauded for taking such a stance.

Stories such of that of former WVU player Teddy Allen, who enrolled at five different schools during his college career, were nothing but a mockery of what the college experience should be.

In the NCAA’s memo, it outlined certain exceptions that were available to secure a waiver, including, “For reasons related to the student-athlete’s physical or mental well-being.”

The problem is that statement is about as vague as it gets. There were 2,000 men’s basketball players in the transfer portal this summer and it’s realistic they all could have claimed that being able to continue to play basketball was in their best interest in terms of their physical or mental well-being.

But let’s get back to Battle, who has overcome an enormous amount of adversity and personal loss in his life to get to where he is today.

“I’ve touched on his story a little bit, and I don’t need to get into it now, but basketball is something he needs on a day-to-day basis, and he needs that structure and accountability each and every day to keep his head on straight, so to speak,” WVU interim head coach Josh Eilert said a few weeks ago.

Battle is an American Indian, a native of the Tulalip Tribe in Washington, about 40 miles north of Seattle.

He is not just a role model for becoming the first person of his tribe to earn a Division I basketball scholarship, but he is viewed as a hero to his people.

And his story is not one without heartache.

In 2013, when Battle was still in middle school, his cousin, who was raised right alongside Battle and his four brothers, committed suicide.

A year later, there was a mass shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High — the school Battle attended — in which five people were killed, including the shooter. Battle was related to the shooter.

If there is any case in America where continuing to play sports is vital for a student-athlete’s physical or mental well-being, it is indeed RaeQuan Battle’s.

“There was a lot of, ‘I just want to lay here and watch TV and eat holiday food,’” Battle’s mother Jacqueline Williams told The Seattle Times in 2018. “I had to make him get up; we’re not going to stay stuck. We have to keep it moving.”

If not Battle, then who exactly would the NCAA approve under this guideline? That is an extremely important question today that has no answer.

As stated earlier, Battle’s case is now in the hands of the NCAA Committee for Legislative Relief. And this is where the NCAA’s vagueness becomes dangerous.

The Committee for Legislative Relief is a board of seven members, all of them being either a compliance officer, an athletic director or an associate commissioner representing seven different Division I conferences, including the Big 12.

They are not mental-health experts, nor are they psychologists, yet the NCAA is so quick to shuffle cases like Battle’s to them, while asking that committee to make a final decision on whether or not a student-athlete should be allowed to play or forced to sit based on one’s mental health.

It would be like asking Bill Gates to chair the NCAA tournament selection committee, a novel idea only if you want to live in a world where Ivy League schools got all of the No. 1 seeds.

That board is probably no better qualified to judge Battle’s physical and mental well-being than you or I would be.

Which brings us to the final thought, which is to say what the NCAA wrote in that memo back in March is a bunch of you-know-what.

You can’t lay out vague guidelines for allowing a second transfer and then deny someone who is likely a textbook example of someone meeting said guidelines.

When that happens, well, now you see why the NCAA is a public relations nightmare in the first place.

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