Masoli was suspended for his actions by coach Chip Kelly, but apparently the punishment wasn’t enough to convince the stud QB to stay on the straight and narrow. Only a few months later he was cited for marijuana possession, and his repeated legal issues led to his dismissal from the football program.
Then things got interesting.
Masoli had already earned his degree at Oregon, and was therefore no longer an undergraduate student. Under NCAA rules, any player who wishes to transfer to another school within the FBS (Division 1) must sit out a year before becoming eligible to participate in athletics at his or her new university…except if that student has already graduated and is pursuing a post-graduate degree.
Masoli was able to exploit this rule; because he had finished his undergraduate work, he could transfer without penalty and play football in 2010.
At least, that was the plan. Unfortunately, it ran into a couple of obstacles.
Masoli elected to go to Ole Miss, hoping to step in as the starting quarterback following Jevan Snead’s move to the NFL. But coach Houston Nutt was reluctant to take on the troubled player. Nutt had been burned in the past by giving out second chances to athletes with legal woes, and he was initially unwilling to give Masoli a free pass.
Nutt and the university agreed that Masoli would have to walk on to the team, try out, and hope to make it without the benefit of a scholarship. Of course he had the luxury of being tough, given that it was summer and the team had yet to show what it could do. As the season neared and Nutt was faced with the harsh reality that his existing quarterbacks were somewhat wanting, he changed his tune. By August, it was clear that Masoli would indeed start for the Rebels.
Then came the second problem. Upon learning of his intentions, the NCAA stepped in and ruled Masoli ineligible. At the time no explanation was given. Eventually, however, the NCAA publicly justified the move.
NCAA rules go on to stipulate that if a player transfers within division for the purposes of enrolling in a graduate program, especially one not offered at his or her previous university, there is a one-year residency requirement that precedes eligibility. In other words, the player must live for one year in his or her new location before resuming any athletics.
Despite the rule, the NCAA often waives that requirement for student athletes, and both Masoli and Ole Miss had every expectation that the waiver would be given in this instance as well. But the NCAA explained that although Masoli technically met the requirements for eligibility, he would not be granted the waiver because “the waiver exists to provide relief to student-athletes who transfer for academic reasons to pursue graduate studies, not to avoid disciplinary measures at the previous university.”
On the one hand, that decision was ridiculous. How many college athletes transfer for purely academic reasons? But on the other, it was the right call.
Masoli’s move was akin to the misbehaving child who, having gotten a firm “no” from mom, runs to get dad’s approval before the parents can confer. Oregon rightfully disciplined Masoli by saying he couldn’t play football in 2010. His behavior was reprehensible, and a dismissal was exactly what he deserved. Yet with his move to a new program, he was able to circumvent that discipline and essentially avoid any meaningful consequences.
By stepping in and declaring him ineligible, the NCAA was upholding the spirit of the rule and making sure that the QB couldn’t abuse a regulatory loophole. But in a final twist, just prior to this weekend’s season opener, an NCAA legislative relief committee overturned the ruling and declared Masoli eligible for 2010.
In the most technical sense, the reversal was justifiable. If one only reads the rules and ignores the surrounding reality, then everything is just fine. But that’s not how rules are supposed to be enforced. Without common sense, regulations are meaningless. By allowing Masoli to escape punishment, the association undermined its own viability and the University of Oregon’s authority.
I find it perplexing that the NCAA, so concerned with matters of justice when it comes to players, would so quickly and casually dismiss its own decision. All around the country, we see investigations and inquiries dragging on for months while evidence is collected and cases are built. Yet here, the spirit of a rule was utterly cast aside.
So what it the NCAA’s purpose? I’m no longer sure. Does it exist to protect the integrity of college athletics or not? Getting a free car wash from a booster can bench a kid for multiple games, but pulling an end-run around a legitimate suspension is apparently fine and dandy as long as the sneak pulling it off adheres to the fringes of the letter of the law.
Yes, what the NCAA ultimately decided does follow the rules. By the most narrow of interpretations. But in looking at the big picture, the move seems to fly in the face of the association’s other efforts to keep sports clean and fair. With so much turmoil surrounding programs like USC, Georgia, UNC, South Carolina, and West Virginia, the NCAA sending such a contradictory message is, at the very least, ill-timed.
Masoli has the right to play again, and I rarely argue against second chances. Or even third chances. But having to sit out a year would be a perfectly acceptable result after his foul deeds.
What the NCAA’s decision tells me is that it’s more important to know how to work the system than it is to do the right thing.