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NCAA’s denial of transfer waivers leaves student-athletes devastated days before the 2019-20 season

Evina Westbrook (UConn) and Destiny Littleton (South Carolina) are the latest student-athletes forced to watch from the sidelines after having their eligibility waivers denied. Isn’t there a better way the NCAA could go about all of this?

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Tennessee vs South Carolina
Evina Westbrook, who played her freshman and sophomore seasons at Tennessee, thought she’d be tipping off the 2019-20 season with UConn. As of now, those plans are on hold.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Evina Westbrook, who transferred from Tennessee following the firing of coach Holly Warlick in the spring, won’t be playing for UConn when the Huskies tip off their 2019-20 season on Sunday. She, like South Carolina’s Destiny Littleton (a Texas transfer) and many collegiate players before them, are caught up in the limbo that is the NCAA’s transfer rules that prohibit student-athletes from playing during the season in which they transfer.

Both UConn and South Carolina applied for waivers that would allow their respective students to play in 2019-20. The NCAA denied both requests. South Carolina’s appeal of the decision also was denied.

According to reporting from ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel last week, “UConn had argued that issues at Tennessee, which fired coach Holly Warwick in March, met the NCAA’s recently revised standards for a waiver.”

Voepel further writes:

Schools are allowed to apply for waivers to allow players to compete immediately based on specific circumstances that are out of their control. It’s the NCAA’s discretion whether to grant them.

As with many of the NCAA’s regulations, the transfer rules are heavy-handed, with the organization’s “discretion” leaving plenty of room for bias, inconsistency or error in application. One such example involves two sophomores from Georgia Tech: Elizabeth Balogun and Liz Dixon.

Balogun and Dixon transferred to Louisville following the firing of Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph last season. Both applied for waivers that would make them eligible to play for the Cardinals in the 2019-20 season and the NCAA approved both requests, according to Louisville head coach Jeff Walz via the Courier Journal.

UConn has expressed its intent to appeal Westbrook’s ruling, and perhaps the school should point to the fact that Westbrook left Tennessee under the same circumstances in which Balogun and Dixon departed Georgia Tech — after the firing of a head coach, conditions beyond the players’ control. That Westbrook’s waiver request was denied while Balogun’s and Dixon’s were approved highlights the NCAA’s archaic red-tape functioning which — once it ensnares students — leaves them in disheartening predicaments.

Westbrook and Littleton moved from Tennessee and Texas to Connecticut and South Carolina, respectively, specifically for the purpose of playing basketball for new teams and their opportunity to play has been denied. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said last week that she and Littleton were both “devastated” by the NCAA’s decision.

The Gamecocks play their season opener on Tuesday (Nov. 5) and the Huskies tip off their season on Sunday (Nov. 10), leaving Littleton and Westbrook to practice and train, if they’re lucky, but otherwise to languish in basketball purgatory for a year. Additionally, when students transfer schools for athletics, they also transfer their academic studies and must ensure that their course credits transfer and, if not, find ways to make them up — another factor that should be considered in these decisions.

According to Voepel:

UConn athletic director David Benedict said he was surprised by the decision ‘because the NCAA talks to us about serving the best interest of the student.’

At minimum, if the NCAA insists on upholding these rules, it should be required that the body implement a more expeditious method for reviewing and ruling on waiver requests. A transfer should not be declared complete until the waiver decision has been made. If an eligibility waiver is denied, however, the student should be granted the option to stay at their current school and play another season rather than miss an entire season of growth and development on the bench at the new school.