The NCAA can point to its rulebook all it wants, but it absolutely did the wrong thing by denying Luke Ford the opportunity to play at Illinois this upcoming season.
Wednesday evening, Ford announced via Twitter that his waiver for immediate eligibility had been denied by the NCAA. He left Georgia after the 2018 season and committed to Illinois, citing his grandparents’ declining health and his family’s inability to travel and watch him play in Athens as reasons that fueled his decision.
You know, legitimate concerns.
“I love all of my teammates and friends I have met in Athens. Also, I’d like to thank all the UGA fans for being amazing throughout the year,” Ford wrote back in January. “However, due to my grandparents’ deteriorating health and my family’s inability to afford to see me play in person each week, I will be transferring to the University of Illinois.”
But the NCAA didn’t hear Ford’s concerns. Instead, it plunged its fingers knuckle-deep into its ears, drenched the rubber stamp in red ink and plastered the word “DENIED” all over the application. The organization took four months to make that call.
Not to overstate the obvious here, but this ruling is absurd. It’s also the second time this week the NCAA has made a ridiculous decision. On Tuesday, Virginia Tech offensive lineman Brock Hoffman announced that his waiver had been denied by the NCAA after transferring from Coastal Carolina to be closer o his mother who recently had a brain tumor removed.
The reason? Virginia Tech isn’t within the 100-mile radius of Hoffman’s hometown that the NCAA requires. It lies five miles outside that limitation. Five.
Maddening, isn’t it?
Ford found a similar response from the NCAA. Illinois also isn’t located within that arbitrary 100-mile radius of the tight end’s hometown, one of the reasons he wasn’t granted eligibility. Interesting fact: there isn’t a Division I FBS program located within 100 miles of Carterville, Ill., Ford’s hometown. The closest is Illinois, which is 193-mile trek.
Strike one, NCAA.
The NCAA also ruled that Ford’s grandfather was not a nuclear family member, even though his health is deteriorating. And that, above all else, might be the most disappointing aspect of this denial.
I understand that, from the definition of nuclear family, Ford’s grandfather fits outside that description. But what the NCAA shouldn’t be governing is the relationship between a student-athlete and a member of his family. It can’t fully understand the bond Ford and his grandfather have from a few sheets of paper.
Strike two, NCAA.
Then there’s the fact that the NCAA granted eligibility waivers for Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Miami’s Tate Martell earlier this year, despite the lack of reasoning behind their decisions. Basically, Fields left Georgia because he wasn’t going to beat Jake Fromm for the starting job. Martell departed from Columbus because of Fields’ arrival.
To be clear, there was an issue in which a fan hurled a racial slur at Fields during the Tennessee-Georgia game in 2018, but Fields and his attorney said that incident wasn’t mentioned in the waiver process.
Approved waivers for Fields and Martell gave Illinois confidence that Ford would enjoy the same luxury. With Georgia supporting the tight end’s move, it seemed like a no-brainer for the NCAA.
“I think it’s strong,” Whitman said of Ford’s waiver in March, according to the Illini Inquirer. “Certainly, you got a lot of reasons for him to come back to his home state. He unquestionably was going to have a great opportunity to be on the field and contribute at Georgia. Generally, that’s the thing they’re looking for. They don’t want people who are making a sport-based decision. ‘Well, I can go to this school and play there. I have a better opportunity to contribute.’ Certainly, that’s not the case here.”
Ford wasn’t searching for playing time like Fields or Martell, he was going to compete for the starting job at Georgia this fall. Yet, for some reason, it’s the two quarterbacks who made football-based decisions who received the nod while Ford will be standing on the sidelines in street clothes this year.
Strike three, NCAA.
Illinois still has the opportunity and plans to appeal the decision. It will first offer more information to the NCAA before starting a formal appeal process.
“We’re all disappointed Luke Ford’s waiver request for immediate eligibility was denied,” Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said. “There is an appeal process that we intend to help Luke explore.”
It’s great that Ford has the opportunity to appeal the decision. Perhaps more information and clarity will entice the NCAA to take its fingers out of its ears and reconsider Ford’s situation. Maybe we’ll see the organization right this wrong before the 2019 season kicks off.
The bottom line, though, is that Ford and Illinois shouldn’t have to worry about the appeal process. This decision was a no-brainer and the NCAA struck out. Again.