If you thought the NCAA had a monopoly on stupid eligibility decisions, you were very, very wrong.
ESPN has a story up today on Maori Davenport, one of the best women’s high school players in the country. She’s a top 15 prospect that is already committed to Rutgers and spent last August playing with USA Basketball, where she helped lead Team USA to a gold medal in Mexico City at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
But it was that trip with USA Basketball that cost her.
USA Basketball is allowed to pay its athletes for participating in events such as this. Davenport was sent a check for $857.20, which is a nice chuck of change for an 18-year old but hardly a life-changing amount of money, but according to Alabama high school rules, no athlete is allowed to receive more than $250. USA Basketball typically makes a call to the high school federation of the players that participate in their events before sending out a check. They did not in this case, and they did not realize their mistake until November. When they did, they alerted Davenport’s school — Henderson High School in Troy, Alabama — and Davenport sent the money back.
But that did not matter to the AHSAA — Alabama High School Athletic Association. Since Davenport initially accepted the money, she was ruled ineligible for her entire senior season.
“In all my years with USA Basketball, we have never had this happen before,” Craig Miller, a USA Basketball spokesman that has worked there for 29 years, told ESPN. “It was not a purposeful error.
“The NCAA allows us to pay athletes — who have no remaining high school eligibility — a small amount for the sake of representing the USA. Typically, if we have an athlete with high school eligibility remaining, we will check with their athletic association because the rules are different in each state.
“But we didn’t realize [Davenport] had high school eligibility remaining, and it was absolutely our mistake.”
Let me be clear here: This does not in anyway affect Davenport’s NCAA eligibility. For context, former Florida State guard Leticia Romero was paid €29,000 when she helped Spain win the silver medal in the 2016 Olympics, and she played in 2016-17 with no issues. Katie Ledecky’s NCAA eligibility is intact after she got paid six figures for her performances as a swimmer in those same Olympics. This is something the NCAA is fine with.
This is an issue with the AHSAA.
Who is punishing this girl because they did not know the rules and trusted that USA Basketball did.
Keep in mind what we’re talking about here: Davenport was overpaid by $607.20. That’s a relatively inconsequential amount of money which has already been paid back to USA Basketball. This was not something that was done intentionally. USA Basketball made a mistake by not calling the AHSAA to make sure this was OK. The Davenports made a mistake when they didn’t double-check to make sure that it was OK to accept this money. Everyone acknowledges that.
And the AHSAA should acknowledge that continuing to punish this young woman for it is a mistake as well.
Do the right thing.