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The Leticia Romero situation from a K-State Perspective: A Q&A with Bring on the Cats

Jon Morse and Tye Burger of SB Nation's Bring on the Cats discuss the Leticia Romero transfer situation with us, as well as the future of their women's basketball program.

Jamie Squire

The circumstances around Leticia Romero's transfer situation have become national news in the last month. And a lot of blame has been placed on Kansas State's adminstration for not allowing her to transfer sooner. However, we wanted to learn more about this from the viewpoint of a Kansas State fan, and how they view this story.

To help us get a better understanding about the circumstances around Romero from a K-State perspective, we decided to ask our colleagues at Bring on the Cats, SB Nation's Kansas State Wildcats blog. BotC's site manager Jon Morse, and founder Tye Burger provided us their thoughts, and they are below.

Swish Appeal: When the news of the Romero situation first broke, you described it as one of the most embarrassing events for K-State athletics in recent history. Now that the situation is resolved, what are your general feelings about it and what it means for your women’s basketball program generally?

Jon Morse: At the time I wrote that article (which was prior to any other media outlet rising up in outrage, including Jay Bilas), my initial reaction was much the same as most people's reaction has been to the situation since that point. Without any information whatsoever available to go on, I was shocked that K-State would deny the request; in addition, I was concerned that Romero's situation was so unlike that of the average student-athlete that a different level of consideration for "hardship" should be in play.

However, it quickly became apparent that the athletic department had some concerns, and in the preamble to that article I made it clear that there may be a very real reason why permission to contact would be denied. So while I was then, and remain for the most part, of the belief that the request should have been granted much sooner than it was, I don't think K-State was behaving in any way differently than most other schools would given the same circumstances, and TB's research into the process at other schools bears that out (at least on paper).

TB: K-State didn't cover itself in glory here, and for an athletic department that's mostly known for flying under the radar that's noteworthy. This is nothing compared to the debacle that was the end of our previous athletic director's tenure, but it's second on the list. It will be the subject of some potshots in the short term, but if you ask Joe Average Fan around the country to describe what happened at K-State when Bob Krause was the athletic director, I doubt they have any idea. This too will fade into oblivion.

SA: BotC members have objected to a recent article on Swish Appeal about the situation which was harshly worded at K-State. What are the major points of disagreement for you in that piece?

TB: The full critique is going to take a while. Either the author doesn't understand the nature of the letter athletic director John Currie wrote to Dean Bosco on May 5th*, he misconstrued it, or he intentionally misrepresented it. The letter was a confidential communication between Currie and Bosco, in which Currie asked Bosco to take the "unprecedented" step of reviewing the appeals committee's decision to deny Romero's permission-to-contact request. This letter was not a press release. It became public after Romero's attorney obtained a copy of it and made it available to media outlets, including The Manhattan Mercury and ESPN. Nobody knows how the letter was leaked.**

To answer the author's question regarding the letter, Currie notes in the letter that what he's asking is unprecedented. Currie was aware the policy was in place. He was asking what, if anything, could be done.

Many of us at BotC have criticized the athletic department and the appeals committee for not granting permission to contact initially, even in light of the alleged tampering. Reasonable minds can disagree about whether those possible violations of permission-to-contact rules should constitute sufficient reason to deny permission to contact. But the author scorns such justification. The article demonstrated an impressive ignorance of the applicable NCAA bylaws. K-State is far from the only athletic department that considers "tampering" a reason to deny permission to contact.

Finally, the author attributes K-State's actions either to incompetence or willful deceit. John Infante, who was the lead compliance officer at Colorado State University a few years ago, wrote about this a full five days before the author's article at issue (ignoring counterfactual information provided was a pattern with this author). We linked it at BotC, and interviewed Infante himself.

Romero applied for her initial release in late March. Under NCAA rules, K-State has to respond to the initial request within seven business days, or it's automatically granted. If the request is denied and the student-athlete appeals, then an appeals committee must hear and decide the case within 15 business days. K-State did not have the luxury of waiting until the previous coaching staff found jobs so that it could deny permission to contact to that school if it had tampering concerns.

K-State had to choose between granting Romero's request in the face of tampering concerns, or denying the request and risking a PR problem.

K-State had to choose between granting Romero's request in the face of tampering concerns, or denying the request and risking a PR problem. Deb Patterson's departure was less than amicable. K-State officials probably believed that a denied permission-to-contact request in women's basketball wouldn't be big news, and they were right for almost a month. They underestimated the current atmosphere surrounding student-athlete issues, even in less-popular sports. Five years ago, this probably never becomes a story.

The snide remark about Currie not making himself available exhibits a thorough misunderstanding of student-privacy laws, but we'll get to that in a minute.

*Notably, this letter was sent more than two weeks before ESPN aired its OTL episode on the situation. Currie wanted the decision changed long before this became a national story.

**The picture of the May 5 letter was taken by a student employee of the Athletic Department. That student graduated and somehow the picture got into the hands of Romero's attorney, who then sent it to the Manhattan Mercury.

SA: There has been a lot of blame from national media placed on K-State’s athletic department and Athletic Director John Currie. What do you think is the biggest distortion being spread by national media?
K-State should have granted the initial transfer request, but they were required by NCAA rules to decide the case quickly. Once the appeal was decided, it wasn't clear anyone at K-State even could change the decision

TB: Most of them overlap with the criticisms outlined in the previous answer. National pundits like their narratives nice and tidy, no grayscale allowed. They want one party that's right and one party that's wrong. But the real world rarely accommodates that viewpoint.

K-State should have granted the initial transfer request, but they were required by NCAA rules to decide the case quickly. Once the appeal was decided, it wasn't clear anyone at K-State even could change the decision. But until I asked Infante to comment on the situation, nobody (including me, sadly) had bothered to read the applicable NCAA bylaws and understand that there was a procedural reason for the situation.

Doing so would require curiosity and the difficult work of understanding and weighing competing evidence. Those capacities are far beyond most in the national media.

SA: K-State administrators, including AD Currie have refrained from commenting in detail regards to the Romero situation, citing privacy laws. While they didn’t mention specific laws, it likely involves the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). How do these laws affect how athletic department personnel handle student-athlete matters?

Even if it were a close call, you don't give someone who's already mad at you any excuse to sue.

TB: I'm a lawyer. But I don't practice in an area involving FERPA, whether in private practice or a university setting. Student-privacy laws, like most federal statutory schemes, are complicated. Whether they apply to information pertaining to a student-athlete's permission-to-contact request is beyond my understanding, and I don't have time to dedicate to reading the laws and putting together a memo analyzing the situation.

Every university in the country has counsel advising them on a range of issues, including student privacy. Those lawyers have considered the application of these laws and advised their university's administrators. K-State's attorney's office, like others across the country, has advised athletic department personnel that disclosing information pertaining to situations like Romero's is potentially a violation of student privacy. Even if it were a close call, you don't give someone who's already mad at you any excuse to sue.

SA: For women's college basketball fans, this is not the first time a transfer situation has gone awry in recent memory - last year, former Florida guard Sydney Moss ended up transferring to Thomas More, a Division III school. For those trying to fit this story into a broader narrative about NCAA rules and the exploitation of athletes, how might you say this situation is unique or relevant?

TB: This situation may not be unique, but it's rare. It exposed a blind spot in the rules, which are oriented toward protecting student-athletes by giving them an appeal in front of a committee comprising non-athletics personnel, and requiring resolution within a month. Apparently, nobody expected that athletic department officials would change their mind and want to grant permission to contact after the appeals committee's ruling. So it wasn't immediately clear that the athletic department could overrule the appeals committee, even if it benefited Romero.

Recruiting is the dirtiest part of college athletics, and the transfer rules are in place to limit recruiting once student-athletes sign their National Letter of Intent. Once permission to contact is granted, the rules consider the student-athlete recruitable again. So it's not surprising that there are restrictions in place. Even if the student-athletes had bargaining power or significant representation within the NCAA, there would be some transfer restrictions in place.

I'm fine with the current year-in-residence requirement for transferring student-athletes. Transfer applications should be granted as a matter of course, with the school able to restrict the transferring student-athlete from going to intra-conference schools and upcoming non-conference opponents.

SA: Obviously, this situation was triggered by the departure of Deb Patterson and her coaching staff which recruited Romero. With Romero and 6'5" center Breanna Lewis, the team had a good young group to work with, and had a bright future despite the Wildcats’ record. Did you feel the coaching change was warranted and what are your feelings about the program moving forward?

TB: Deb Patterson's coaching record the last two years (30-37 overall, 10-26 conference) is atrocious, K-State hasn't been to the Sweet 16 in 12 years, and Patterson has never advanced beyond the Sweet 16. Two conference championships are nice, but that record doesn't justify Patterson's salary, which was $600,000 last year. That's the second-highest salary among public Big 12 schools, though I'm guessing Baylor's Kim Mulkey makes it third. The results don't justify the money. Currie is cost-conscious to a fault. He calculated that the results can't get much worse for two-thirds of the money.

And don't sleep on the other returnees on this team. By the end of the season, Kindred Wesemann was playing almost as well as Romero. Patterson's recent on-court results didn't justify continued employment, but there are some decent players in Manhattan.