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The sad story of Daisha Simmons' fight to transfer from Alabama to Seton Hall

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As reported by multiple outlets during the NCAA basketball offseason, Alabama has taken a hard-line stance in blocking senior Daisha Simmons from transferring to Seton Hall for family reasons. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said in an interview with Swish Appeal that the NCAA has done the right thing in response to the blocked transfer request, but Alabama is "acting in a shameful fashion".

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

How would you feel if someone told you that you couldn't be there for your family?

That even though your only sibling has a life threatening disease, you can't be there for them emotionally and physically?

There are moments where a person has to fight for their happiness, but it shouldn't have to be a college athlete that just wants to go home and be around her ailing brother, 32-year old Chaz.

And that's exactly the predicament that ex-Alabama player Daisha Simmons finds herself in.

"I just want to come back home so I can be with my family and help my mom and my brother," Simmons said in an interview with Swish Appeal. "And doing what I love at the same time while getting my MBA."

Simmons is a NCAA student-athlete who has already completed her undergraduate requirements and graduated from Alabama. For her last year, she wanted to be near her family and use the final year of her collegiate eligibility at Seton Hall.

Alabama has taken a firm stance in denying Simmons the opportunity, which has stirred yet another transfer controversy throughout the women's college basketball offseason.

"It's just all those issues about the circumstances -- the fact that she's graduated, that she was denied entry into her chosen graduate program, and that she's got a significant family difficulty, you would hope that common sense and a heart would dictate that you would help," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas in an interview with Swish Appeal. "Even if all those things didn't exist, the idea that any school is trying to block, limit, inhibit or prohibit a student from going where they want to go. An unpaid amateur student -- [which] they say is to be treated like any other student. It's almost offensive to common sense -- it is offensive."

What's immediately confusing about this whole scenario is why Alabama would deny Simmons' transfer waiver: Why would Curry be so adamant in strong-arming a young lady from spending her last year near her ailing brother, while also pursuing an MBA that the Crimson Tide doesn't offer?

Why Alabama won't allow Simmons to transfer

Simmons' mother, Christena, told Swish Appeal that the explanation for blocking the transfer that she received from Alabama assistant athletic director Shane Lyons was, "They were down one scholarship and it was too late to replace her."

Part of the reason the Crimson Tide might have seen Simmons as especially valuable was that they had already released four players from their scholarships at season's end: 6-foot-1 guard Emily Davis, 5-foot-9 guard Courtney Hunter and 6-foot forwards Brittany Jack and Kara Rawls. Releasing players from scholarships isn't uncommon in college sports: the reason the NCAA's allowance of four-year scholarships has been in the news recently is because scholarships are not traditionally guaranteed for a full four-year term.

So the Alabama administration approved all of those players being released per Curry's request in May -- as Christena, Daisha's Gill St. Bernard High School coach (NJ) Mergin Sina, and Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella all said, "Curry didn't think they were good enough." That helps to explain why the Crimson Tide were upset when Simmons made her transfer request.

"I spoke to (Lyons)," Sina said. "Here's what his response was: 'We are upset that Daisha [decided to transfer so late] and that pretty much crippled our women's program for the following year.' If your college coach left in September and the season was about to start, and the kids are looking forward to playing for their coach and they left, how are they going to penalize the coach? They're not!"

Adding to the odd circumstances surrounding the situation is that the NCAA has put in a specific provision that if you get your undergraduate degree before your allotted time is up as a student athlete, you can transfer to another university that offers a Master's program and be immediately eligible.

So the stance that Alabama is taking is not just uncommon, it almost never happens.

We're at a bad place, we're hoping (Alabama) rethinks this and understands like, ‘What's the point of [restricting her]?-Mergin Sina, Daisha Simmons' high school coach.

Alabama did not return our request for comment on this story by the time this was published, but their latest public explanation for their decision came in the form of a statement released to Gannett New Jersey published yesterday. Alabama spokesman Doug Walker told Gannett reporter Jerry Carino that, "The NCAA has made its decision in this case, and The University of Alabama considers this matter closed."

In other words, it simply doesn't look like Alabama is going to budge on this issue.

"This student-athlete, Daisha Simmons, is considered an asset of the university (of Alabama)," Bilas said. "And, they can talk all they want about athlete welfare, but this is not what's it's about. This is an athlete, this is a non-revenue sport, they're looking at her as an asset. And because the NCAA rules don't prohibit them from acting in a shameful fashion, they're acting in a shameful fashion."

But if Curry can make decisions about remove for players from their scholarship, why can't Simmons decide to finish her career at Seton Hall -- something she deems is the best scenario for her, her family and most importantly, her ailing brother?

"We're at a bad place," Sina said. "We're hoping (Alabama) rethinks this and understands like, ‘What's the point of [restricting her]?'"

"What's the point?"

There are other examples -- just this academic year -- of student-athletes who are spending their last year of college athletics at a different institution, but they don't even remotely come close to the dire circumstances that Simmons is facing:

  • Matt Carlino: started career at UCLA, transferred to BYU and played three seasons, now immediately eligible to play for Marquette this season.

  • Bryce Dejean-Jones: started career at USC, transferred to UNLV, graduated this past year and will be eligible to play at Iowa State.

  • Royce Woolridge: started career at Kansas, transferred to Washington State, graduated and is now eligible to play at Grand Canyon.

As such, for Curry and Alabama to take such a strong stance against Simmons stands out even further: similar to the case of Sydney Moss in trying to transfer from Florida, this is far more of a personal decision than a basketball decision for Simmons.

Simmons' brother, Chaz, who means so much to her, has End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). It's the last and final stage of Chronic Kidney Disease - stage five. And a person with this diagnosis needs dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to live. He's currently on the waiting list for a kidney.

"When Daisha came home in early May of this year, she expressed to me that she wanted to leave Alabama and come back closer to home to obtain her MBA, since Alabama was not accepting her into their program," Simmons' mother said. "She also stated that her brother's sickness and my working two jobs also had a lot to do with her decision.

"We sat down as a family and discussed what would be her best option. My son has End Stage Renal Disease. He has dialysis three times a week for 3 to 4 hours each time. Daisha felt that being closer to home would be the best scenario, just in case something happened to him."

That means that there are two waivers that apply to Simmons' situation: the Graduate Transfer Waiver and the Family Hardship Waiver, as outlined by AthleticScholarships.net.

Graduate Transfer Waiver:

  • A letter from the previous school saying it does not object to the student-athlete being eligible;
  • Documentation that the student-athlete has been accepted into a specific graduate degree program;
  • Documentation about whether that degree program is offered by the previous school;
  • A student-athlete statement including the reasons for the transfer; and
  • A statement from the previous institution about the student-athlete's status on the team.

Family Hardship Waiver:

  • Nature of the injury or illness: The injury or illness should be life-threatening and involve an immediate family member (parent, legal guardian, or sibling). Waivers that are denied typically involve an extended family member (aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc.) unless that family member raised the student-athlete.
  • Student-athlete's responsibilities related to the care of the family member: The more involved the student-athlete is in the day-to-day care for the family member, the more likely the waiver is to be granted.
  • Chronology of events: Waivers are more likely to be granted if something changed that prompted the student-athlete's transfer like a diagnosis, the actual injury, or a worsening condition. Waivers are less likely to be granted if a family member has been ill or injured for a while, and nothing changed that require the student-athlete to transfer.

When requesting the waiver, the school must submit at least three sets of information, much of which will come from the student-athlete or his or her family:

  • Documentation from the doctor who diagnosed the family member;
  • Documentation from the doctor who is currently treating the family member; and
  • A letter from the student-athlete explaining the need for a waiver.

Simmons meets all of the requirements for both waivers, save for one point: she doesn't have the very first bullet point, essentially a letter from Alabama and Curry that they don't object to her transferring back home to be near her brother, who has a failing kidney.

"It's just an unfortunate incident," said Bozzella, who has been vocal about his thoughts on the situation. "I do think that people don't realize the extreme situation both medically and financially that she's dealing with her family. I hope everyone comes to their senses and be in support of the waiver."

It kind of makes you shut down when all these folks talk about student-athlete welfare and how they care about student-athletes.-Jay Bilas, ESPN

What's even more perplexing about this whole ordeal is that Simmons has fulfilled her requirements as a student - she has already gotten her undergraduate degree and wishes to further her education. So if the Crimson Tide does not avail her the opportunity of getting her MBA there, what is education supposed to be about? Holding her and her 13.8 points per game hostage?

Alabama was 14-16 last year with Simmons and finished in tenth place, so for Curry to be taking such a hardline stance could come off as vindictive.

"I think what it does is it kind of makes you shut down when all these folks talk about student-athlete welfare and how they care about student-athletes and all that stuff," Bilas said. "When you see cases like these -- and there are too many of them -- they're talking about both sides of their mouths. This is one of the few times where I'm willing to call the NCAA hypocritical."

NCAA seems to agree with Simmons, but can't act

For a coach who has always been able to do what was in the best interest of herself and her family, it's a shame that Curry doesn't empathize with Simmons for wanting to do the same: looking out for the best interest of her family.

And while the NCAA is normally the organization that has been under scrutiny for some of its draconian ways, in this case, it seems like the NCAA agrees with Simmons - something that most skeptics would be shocked to hear.

They have granted Simmons an extra year of eligibility, the first time they've done that in a situation like this. The NCAA has basically stated that if it weren't for Alabama's objection, they would have no issue in allowing Simmons the opportunity to play this season.

"Well at least they're (NCAA) trying [when it comes to giving Simmons an extra year of eligibility]," said Bilas. "I give them credit for that. And so the people in the office in Indianapolis, if I understand this, at least are trying to do the right thing under a flawed structure. The problem is that the NCAA has always said that the NCAA is the member institutions.

"So by one of the member institutions or more than one acting in this manner, it's the NCAA doing it. And I don't see the President of the NCAA (Mark Emmert), who has been heard on all these different issues, stepping forward to use his platform to say, ‘This is wrong, ' and putting that kind of pressure on Alabama -- because it's wrong.

"The fact that there's (not) a rule out there that prohibits schools from acting in a shameful fashion, doesn't mean that they shouldn't be called out."

Who would ever think that the head coach would be more apt to hold on to their views and not the NCAA?

"I just want to go and move on," said Simmons. "And I'm not allowed to, and I think that's unfair."

What's more important than life and family?

For more on this story, stay tuned to our storystream about Simmons' transfer.