Jon and Ot Elmore never played a game for VMI, but more than a year after they left the Lexington, Virginia, school to return to home to care for their sick grandfather neither has been granted a transfer release.
Ot, the elder brother named after their grandfather, and Jon have been in limbo since leaving VMI on October 29th of last year. Jon, at the time, was a true freshman. Ot was a redshirt freshman, having sat out his first season in college in order to play four seasons with Jon.
Their grandfather, Otmer, was battling cancer. He passed away a few months after the boys returned home. Neither decided to return to VMI, with Jon transferring to Marshall and Ot heading to Texas Rio Grande Valley, but since they were never granted releases, both were forced to pay their own way for the second semester of the 2014-15 school year and the first semester of 2015-16. Jon also lost an extra year of eligibility.
That’s quite a sacrifice to make to take care of their grandfather in the final days of his life, a sacrifice that wasn’t made any easier thanks to VMI’s refusal to give them a release.
There’s a reason behind the decision, a lawyer representing the brothers told ESPN.com, and it’s all based on scholarship money:
Tim DiPiero, a family friend and lawyer who is helping the Elmores, told ESPN that he was under the impression — after several discussions with Diles — that an agreement would be reached in which the family would pay $50,000 to compensate for scholarship money last year in return for the releases of both players. DiPiero told ESPN that weeks later VMI insisted it would grant the releases only if “made whole,” and the figure then escalated to approximately $110,000.
“The family was willing to come up with $50,000,” DiPiero said. “However, they could not afford $110,000.”
On the surface, I get it.
VMI looks as the money they spent on scholarships for the Elmores as a waste. They paid to redshirt Ot. They paid to bring Jon into the program for what amounted to a month. They spent that money on them instead of the other kids they were recruiting, and if the Elmores had simply decided that, say, they couldn’t handle the rigors of being at a military institution, than this would be a slightly different story.
That says nothing of the anger that then-head coach Duggar Baucom likely felt about losing two key pieces to his program two weeks before games were schedule to begin.
“While the timing of the Elmore brothers departure is not ideal, I would like to focus on my other 12 tough-minded cadet-athletes that understand the unique challenges of the The Institute and the value of the VMI degree,” Baucom said in a statement released at the time.
Don’t get me wrong. While I’m totally against colleges having the ability to hold a scholarship over the head of a student-athlete that wants to transfer, I get why a program like VMI — one that doesn’t have the budget of, say, Kentucky — would be upset about this.
But to hold the eligibility of a pair of brothers hostage?
When they left school to care for their grandfather, who lost a battle to cancer?
Here’s the kicker: the Elmores are a powerful name in VMI basketball. Their father, Gay, starred for the program in the late-80s and was the program’s all-time leading scorer for nearly two decades. If this is the treatment they get, imagine what it would be like if someone else had tried to leave school to tend to a sick grandparent.
Baucom left the program in March to take over at The Citadel. He was replaced by Dan Earl, who was formerly an associate head coach at Navy. In other words, this isn’t a decision that was made by a head coach ticked off by a kid backing out on a promise.
This is a decision made by the athletic department.
If you think it’s as wrong as I do, you can email VMI’s athletic director Dave Diles here.