Earlier this month, Maryland awarded defensive end Marcus Whitfield a game ball for his performance vs. FIU. The Terps then confirmed they had not actually given him the game ball, citing an NCAA rule which forbids programs from giving players more than set monetary amount in gifts.
There's good news for Marcus, though, and any other NCAA athlete in the same position: per the Baltimore Sun and NCAA bylaws expert John Infante, the NCAA has backtracked from its earlier position and officially made an exception for "mementos of nominal value" Friday.
The complete text of the rules change, published at the NCAA's site:
The academic and membership affairs staff determined that an institution may provide a memento of nominal value (e.g., game ball, t-shirt, hat, etc.), which may not include cash or cash equivalents, to a student-athlete in recognition of an accomplishment in a particular contest or event as a benefit incidental to participation.
The Sun reported that in 1996, the NCAA had interpreted its rules to mean it was "not permissible" to award game balls, regardless of monetary value. Friday's decision overturns that interpretation.
Infante speculates that players might still have to wait until their eligibility expires to receive their "mementos," though, thanks to the Johnny Manziel-fueled scrutiny of autographed memorabilia. But this is nonetheless one instance of the NCAA getting it right -- a rule that made little common sense now has much more common sense.
And hopefully, that will mean a couple more Marcus Whitfields can walk out of their locker rooms with their game balls this weekend.