Last season, the NCAA granted immediate eligibility to Tyler Smith after he transferred from Iowa to Tennessee to be near his gravely ill father, who lived in Pulaski, Tenn.
The decision, invoking a hardship waiver that covers everything from injury to illness to financial hardship has been in place since 1991, was lauded by many as a student-friendly act on the part of the NCAA.
Like most paths paved with good intentions, this one has been trampled.
Players are coming out of the woodwork with ailing parents or other family members, begging to head back home … or at least in the extended geographic footprint of home.
It's got coaches piping mad on both sides of the tables, with some calling this just another example of savvy rule manipulation and circumvention, and others arguing it's an effort to do the right thing by a kid and, yes, perhaps by a program.
"To me the waiver makes absolutely no sense," said Boeheim, a National Association of Basketball Coaches board member who has been working with the NABC to convince the NCAA that the rule needs to be tossed. "It's the most ridiculous thing that's ever happened. If you need to come home to be with someone in your family who is sick, that's when you absolutely should sit out. How are you going to be with someone who is sick when you're playing basketball, going to practice and going to games?"
But Gonzalez, who has two players waiting in the wings, sees things a touch differently. Herb Pope, who came to Seton Hall from New Mexico State, is awaiting an appeal from the NCAA after his initial attempt at immediate eligibility was rejected, and Keon Lawrence, who transferred from Missouri to Seton Hall, is expected to file for a hardship waiver so he can play in the second semester.
Pope, from Pittsburgh, was shot four times while a senior in high school. He chose New Mexico State, Gonzalez said, to be far away from his hometown. But when coach Reggie Theus left for a job with the Sacramento Kings, Pope wanted to come home. . . .The truth is Pope, a one-time Parade All-American, and Lawrence, who led Missouri in scoring last year, would turn bottom-feeding Seton Hall into a bona-fide player in the crowded Big East. The Pirates were picked to finish 13th in the 16-team league.
Critics argue that's all Gonzalez cares about, that the cry to do good by the kids is nothing more than a smoke screen to do good by his program.
To which Gonzalez, who is nothing if not a coaching maverick, replies, "And?"
"People like to say that I'm taking advantage of the rules to get a kid eligible. That's what every coach in America is doing," Gonzalez said. "It's so easy for all these coaches on the NABC board to sit here and say all this stuff about how this is wrong. Let me tell you something: If they had a 6-8 All-American and some rule they could use to get him eligible, it would be like they all of a sudden found religion or found Jesus."
Given his handling of the Michael Glover case, it is no great suprise that Gonzalez's response boils down to 'We will attempt to win at all costs since everyone else is.' It would be poetic justice if the NCAA took Gonzalez at his word; that this is primarily about the success of his program, not the welfare of Herb Pope, and denied the waiver.