Morris: Holloway case shows inequity with NCAA rules

May 16, 2010 

SCarolina Mississippi Basketball

Mississippi forward Murphy Holloway (31) reaches out to try to block a shot by South Carolina guard Devan Downey (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. No. 22 Mississippi won 66-57. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

ROGELIO V. SOLIS/AP

The unfortunate case of Murphy Holloway represents the perfect example of the oppressiveness and inequities that exist for NCAA athletes. His case also harks to how petty and pathetic an athletics department can be in punishing an athlete who opts to transfer to another school.

In Holloway's case, Mississippi is the institution that stooped to new lows. Even though Holloway no longer was a student or athlete at Mississippi, the athletics director and basketball coach denied his transfer to either South Carolina or Clemson - his first two preferences.

Should we be surprised? Hardly. This is the state where only in the past decade have fans stopped waving the Confederate flag at Mississippi home football games. This is the school that until a year ago hung on to its mascot, Colonel Reb, a caricature of what appears to be a white antebellum plantation owner.

But this is not to single out Mississippi. Its athletics department simply acted within the rules set down by the NCAA, rules written solely for the benefit of member institutions. Athletes are second-class citizens under NCAA rules.

If you do not believe that, the picture of exploited labor, restricted free trade and general tyranny within the NCAA becomes clear when you take a closer look at Holloway's case.

Holloway was a standout basketball player at Dutch Fork High who chose Mississippi over Tennessee, Clemson and Maryland. In two seasons at Mississippi, the 6-foot-7 Holloway started 47 games. He led the team in rebounding both seasons and was its third-leading scorer as a sophomore at 10 points per game.

Then he decided to transfer. He said he wanted to be closer to home, where his mother is ill, and he has a six-month old daughter. Although Mississippi officials reportedly attempted to talk Holloway out of his decision to transfer, they eventually granted him a release.

Here is where things got sticky. Under NCAA rules, Mississippi can deny Holloway's transfer to any school it so chooses. Mississippi did that with South Carolina and Clemson.

It is common practice for schools to prevent an athlete from transferring to another school within a conference. So, the denial of a transfer to USC was understandable under the rules. The denial to Clemson was puzzling.

"We heard some drumbeats about Clemson (before the release was given), and that concerned us," Pete Boone, Mississippi's athletics director, told the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.

The implication by Boone is that Clemson recruited Holloway before the player was given his release by the school. Coaches at a prospective school are not allowed to talk to a transfer player before he is officially released.

If Clemson did contact Holloway prematurely, why is Holloway being penalized? The rules should be written to penalize the offending school, not the athlete. If Mississippi cared about Holloway's well-being - as Boone told the Clarion-Ledger - he should have taken up the issue with Clemson.

However, that generally is the way it works within NCAA rules. When an athlete signs with a school, he or she is required to sign an athletic grant-in-aid. In signing that document, the athlete forfeits most civil rights. All rights are granted to the school and its athletics department.

The most glaring forfeiture is the right to a four-year scholarship. Despite being recruited under the premise of earning a four-year degree, athletic scholarships are awarded on a one-year basis.

After each school year, a coach can deny the scholarship for another year. If an athlete chooses to transfer, though, he or she must pay the penalty of sitting out one year of competition and possibly be denied the right to attend another school.

The one-year scholarship is the single biggest injustice in college athletics. It was refreshing to learn last week that the Justice Department is investigating this inequity, according to USA Today.

Had Holloway signed on for a four-year scholarship at Mississippi, any involvement in decision-making by the school about his next two years of athletic competition would be understandable. Since Holloway was no longer under scholarship as soon as the spring semester concluded, he should have been free to transfer anywhere without restrictions.

But that is not the way NCAA rules work. As the case of Murphy Holloway illustrates, an athlete has few basic rights, even when he or she no longer is a student at a particular school.

Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)

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