Any or all of those 13 Iowa players hospitalized last month have a chance of playing football in the fall.
A leading compliance authority says it's a "coin flip" under certain conditions whether some, or all, of those players could transfer immediately without sitting out a year. A long-standing NCAA rule requires Division I football, basketball, football and hockey players to sit out a year if they transfer to another Division I school. Loyola Marymount assistant compliance director John Infante, who started the popular Bylawblog.com website, told CBSSports.com that even if Iowa was found to have no culpability in the players' conditions after vigorous workouts on Jan. 24, some could get that transfer waiver.
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With the school currently in the middle of a three-month investigation into the incident, dealing with possible transfers could be the next issue for coach Kirk Ferentz. The NCAA has long granted such waivers allowing players to forgo the one-year residency requirement in certain situations. But predicting the outcome of any single case can be dicey. The reasons for requesting a waiver are across the board. Waivers are usually decided on a case-by-case basis but there are examples of mass waivers being granted in unique situations.
Those 13 players were admitted to a hospital last month after workouts suffering from rhabdomyolysis, a condition that leads to the breakdown of skeletal muscle and can cause kidney problems. Some players' urine reportedly had turned dark, a symptom of the condition that has been nicknamed "rhabdo" among health professionals. All the players were released in less than a week. Iowa has not been found responsible for any wrongdoing pending that school investigation. However, some parents of players were reportedly upset about the health scare.
The NCAA's Academic and Membership Affairs division would first evaluate any transfer waiver request. Its director, Brad Hostetter, would not comment directly about Iowa but did say, "We have seen previous cases where student-athletes allege mistreatment at a previous school. We'll review and ask for documentation to substantiate the statements. We'll try to get information from the previous school and everybody who is involved. Each of those situations would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. We're trying to figure out what the motivation for the transfer is and why competing right away is the most appropriate relief for that particular student-athlete."
Asked if there have been any transfer waiver requests from Iowa players in this case, Hostetter said, "Because of the privacy [issues], I'm not comfortable commenting on that particular issue."
Infante said that if "there's no real evidence or proof that the institution was at fault," and the players were allowed to transfer immediately, "that would be precedent setting."
Perhaps, but not an impossible task for waiver seekers. More specifically, Infante was asked: In the event Iowa was not at fault, what if the transfer request was based on a player merely being uncomfortable staying on at the school?
"If that's how the waiver is argued, to me it's a coin flip," said Infante whose blog now appears on the NCAA website.
Speaking hypothetically, Infante added, "The guy who is being verbally abused by his coach, even if the coach is gone [from the school], the kid still has no trust in the institution itself."
|On signing day, Ferentz stood behind Doyle who reportedly told players, 'We'll find out who wants to be here.' (US Presswire)|
Two of the afflicted Iowa players have been identified. Biff Poggi, father of linebacker Jim Poggi, spoke at the first press conference following the hospitalizations. Citing a source, ESPN.com stated All-Big Ten defensive back Shaun Prater also went to the hospital.
Mass transfer waivers have been granted in high-profile cases at Baylor and USC. After the murder of a player by a teammate and a further NCAA scandal at Baylor, the top three scorers were allowed to transfer immediately 7 1/2 years ago. In June, USC rising juniors and seniors were allowed to transfer immediately after the school was hit by major penalties stemming from the Reggie Bush case. However, in 2005 the NCAA said it would not grant automatic transfer waivers to players in the area affected by Hurricane Katrina. Those were decided on a case-by-case basis.
"You're right about the Katrina situation," Hostetter said. "It's a balance that we strike trying to determine the motivation of the transfer of each individual student-athlete."
Such is the unpredictably of the transfer waiver process. It was put in place in 1993 as part of a larger allowance for a school or player to get relief from the NCAA on particular rules. The transfer waiver process begins with an application to a 12-member team at Academic and Membership Affairs, usually, by the players' new school. The staff then issues a decision. If it is not satisfactory to the applicant, then the decision can be appealed to the Subcommittee for Legislative Review. That is a formal NCAA committee made up of member academics and administrators (ADs, faculty athletic reps, commissioners, etc.) Hostetter said transfer waivers apps are generally handled in a three-week time frame.
In the end, there has to be compelling evidence why a player doesn't have to sit out after transferring. The general rule requires a transfer student from a four-year school to fulfill that residency requirement of two semesters or three quarters (depending on the school).
"Certainly every time a student transfers there's the likelihood of losing some academic credit or falling behind on the academic side," Hostetter said. "Getting caught back up and acclimating to the new environment is important."
During that academic year the player will be on scholarship unless he/she does not obtain a release from his/her original school. It would be possible for Iowa to release a player from his scholarship but not recommend the waiver.
"To be quite honest [schools in general] don't want to be seen as weak," Infante said. "They don't want to send a message to their players that if something goes wrong, they provide an open door for their players to go somewhere else."
There are numerous exceptions to the transfer rule including those made due to "times of national emergency," a player's health and proximity to a family member in bad health. The waiver application states that the NCAA, in part, weighs "the overall welfare of the student-athlete" and whether there is a "competitive or recruiting advantage." A checklist in the application includes information regarding "injury or illness" as a mitigating circumstance.
"You had kids who were basically saying, 'I'm homesick, I want a waiver,'" Infante said. "Situations where the crux of the waiver is: The first school is 300 miles away from home and new school is 200 miles from home."
However, he added, due to a relative's illness, "[the NCAA could say] we're not going to punish," the player requesting an immediate transfer.
Ferentz seemed to remove blame from his players following the hospitalizations saying, " ... there is no indication they did anything wrong." Meanwhile, Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle has been vigorously defended by former Hawkeyes. Doyle is widely considered one of the best in the profession.
"I really hope this does not do anything to bite Coach Doyle in the butt at all," said former Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds, now with the Miami Dolphins. "I have my complete faith and trust in him."
On signing day, Ferentz stood behind Doyle who reportedly told players in the course of workouts, "We'll find out who wants to be here."
"I would stand by those words and I've used those words in the past and I'll use them in the future," Ferentz said.
Players were involved in a timed 100-squat exercise that Ferentz said would be eliminated. Versions of that squat workout have been used four times since he arrived at Iowa in 1999, Ferentz said. There had been no previous issues.
"It's not like it's any kind of freshman hazing," Edds said. "It's part of Iowa football. It's something you do. You're going to push your body through some uncomfortable things, knowing how far you can push your body."