Oakland's Jalen Hayes, who averaged 15.9 points and 8.0 rebounds last season, is two games through an NCAA-administered four-game suspension that lacks common sense and compassion. I've written about it before. But, if you missed , here's the deal: Hayes is a human resources development major who is on track to graduate in December. And yet the NCAA initially ruled him academically ineligible for this fall semester because, according to NCAA rules, he "failed to make satisfactory progress toward a degree" in the past year.
Again, Hayes is on track to graduate in December.
But the NCAA's rules, as written, insist he's not making "satisfactory progress toward a degree." And it's because the 6-foot-7 forward received a 2.5 grade in a class last spring, which led to Oakland not giving him credit for the class because the school requires students to have at least a 2.8 to get credit in Hayes' major. When Hayes failed to get that credit, even though he didn't fail the class, he dropped below the 18 hours the NCAA requires student-athletes to complete between the start of fall classes and spring commencement. So the NCAA ruled him academically ineligible for the fall semester -- essentially because Oakland, unlike some universities, actually holds its student-athletes to real standards.
Naturally, Oakland appealed to the NCAA.
Its argument was simple and basically that it's crazy to rule Hayes ineligible for "failing to make satisfactory progress toward a degree" when he is actually progressing so well he's on track to graduate in December of his senior season with a 2.9 GPA. The NCAA heard the appeal and dropped the suspension to four games, which is better. But what sense does it make to punish a player at all, for any games, who chose to pursue a real major, and is about to graduate, simply because he got caught by a technicality that obviously shouldn't apply to him?
That's the question.
Nobody has provided a satisfactory answer.
Regardless, Hayes remains suspended. He's already missed Oakland's wins over Fort Wayne and New Orleans. He's now set to miss Saturday's game with Toledo and Monday's game at Syracuse. All the while, Hayes has mostly stayed quiet on the matter. But he's now decided to speak up and speak out. So I conducted a Q&A with him via email Friday afternoon. Here is that Q&A:
Q: How frustrating has this entire ordeal been for you?
A: Very frustrating and disappointing because I want to be out there for my teammates. I understand that, technically, I didn't make 'satisfactory progress.' But I did pass the class. And I am graduating in December with a 2.9 GPA in a very difficult major. Isn't that what the NCAA wants student-athletes to do? And yet, in my senior year, I'm forced to watch the first four games. I will never get these games back. So, yeah, it's frustrating.
Q: Were you surprised a panel didn't take a common-sense approach and completely eliminate your punishment on appeal?
A: Well, on one hand, I am happy that they heard my case and reduced the penalty to four games. But, on the other hand, it is a bit hard to swallow. So, yeah, I'm angry -- especially when athletes who have cheated and taken [impermissible benefits] have received less of a punishment than me. I've been punished more than players who knowingly did things wrong. And all I did was take a real class and get a 2.5 instead of a 2.8.
Q: I'm sure you're happy for. But is there a part of you that looks at his situation and asks, "Why did he get cleared to play immediately while I'm still serving a suspension?"
A: Yeah, I am happy for him, for sure. But I did ask my athletic director how things can be so inconsistent. He said the NCAA is like a tree and that which branch you end up on determines the outcome. So, yeah, I get how that could happen for him and not happen for me. But it's not right. I think 'inconsistent' is a good word to use. I heard Braxton got a lawyer. Maybe I should have too.
Q: Basically, because of a technicality, no North Carolina student-athlete was ever punished even though more than a thousand took completely fraudulent classes over a span of many years. How does that make you feel considering you've been punished for essentially taking real classes in a real major?
A: How would it make you feel? I'm graduating in four weeks! I have worked hard. I attend class. I have a real 2.9. I don't know what happened at North Carolina. And I don't care. I only care that I have missed two games for ridiculous reasons. ... You know, at Oakland, our athletic department does a great job with the student-athlete experience. They do a great job of trying to do what's right for student-athletes. They care at Oakland. So shouldn't the NCAA care about doing what's right too? Don't they say that on those commercials they run during March Madness?
Q: If you could say anything to the people who handled your appeal, what would you say?
A: The NCAA told my coach they did me a favor by suspending me for only four games. A favor! Well, I don't consider it a favor. This suspension has made people think I'm a bad student or something. My phone was blowing up with, 'Jalen, what did you fail? Why did you cheat' But I didn't fail anything and I didn't cheat on anything. So it's not right. You know, I offered up to the NCAA that if I didn't graduate in December, like I'm on course to do, I would be happy to sit four conference games as a punishment. They said no. So I guess what I would say to the NCAA, if I could, is that I'm graduating in the middle of my senior season with a 2.9 GPA in a very difficult major, and I am getting tripped up on a 'satisfactory progress' rule that nobody understands. It's ridiculous. So I would say that to the NCAA. I would tell them this is ridiculous. And then I'd ask them why they felt it was necessary to punish me. And then I'd ask them, 'Can you please let me play with my teammates tomorrow?'