On November 27, Syracuse University quarterback Terrel Hunt was told by the NCAA that, despite missing the better part of the last two years due to season-ending injuries, his petition for a sixth year of eligibility would be denied. It was a tough pill to swallow for Hunt, who’s overcome tremendous adversity in his young life, and he’s not prepared to take the decision lying down.
So today, news came out that Hunt has hired a lawyer and plans to appeal the ruling, and he’s even gone on Twitter with hopes of recruiting famed NCAA rabble rouser Jay Bilas to take up his cause. Earlier today, ESPN.com’s Andrea Adelson spoke with Hunt, who is also planning on addressing the media today about his situation.
It seems strange that an organization that claims to be all about the kids playing its sponsored sports would deny a player like Hunt, who most Syracuse fans thought would be a shoo-in to receive his sixth year. After all, this is a kid who broke his leg in the fifth game of the 2014 season, and tore his achilles just minutes into the 2015 season opener against Rhode Island.
The difficulty here, of course, is that technically the NCAA is simply following the letter of its own law. Because Hunt played in five of the team’s 12 games last season, he fails to qualify for a medical redshirt for 2014. Overall, however, he’s a young man who has played in just 19 games since arriving at Syracuse, including playing two snaps as a redshirt freshman, on special teams, and with 12 of those games coming in 2013 when he was the starting QB who led the Orange to a 7-6 season and a bowl victory over Minnesota.
Like I said, the NCAA is following its rules, so it’s difficult for Hunt to overcome this ruling. A sixth year is only granted when a student-athlete misses two seasons for reasons that are beyond his or the University’s control, and because Hunt played in more than 30% of the team’s games in 2014, he doesn’t fall into that category. The NCAA is justified in enforcing this denial, because that’s what the rule stipulates.
The problem is, it’s a remarkably stupid rule. If the NCAA is truly about doing what’s best for the student-athlete, how is it in anyone’s best interest to deny these kids the chance to do what they want above all else: play sports? Terrel Hunt isn’t asking to be paid for his services, and he’s not trying to claim a sprained ankle from a pickup basketball game is the reason he missed a few games here and there. He had a broken leg, and a torn achilles. If those aren’t outside his own control, what is?
He’s not the only football player to have been unfairly denied a sixth year of eligibility, either. Of course there are also examples that go the other way, too. Examples like Matt Mullennix, who played for Washington State and got his sixth year granted after missing all of 2006 with an injury, and had previously played four games before getting injured in 2004. I know what you’re thinking, too: Mullennix played in fewer games than Hunt, therefore he’s a different case, right?
Not necessarily. Yes, Hunt played in more than 30% of the team’s games, but so did Mullennix, since WSU played 11 games that season – meaning he participated in 36% of his team’s games (compared to 41% for Hunt last season). The NCAA rules are ever changing of course, so you may be wondering if perhaps, in 2008 when Mullennix was granted his waiver, the maximum was a higher percentage, right? Well, it wasn’t. In 2008, as in 2015, that maximum was still 30% of all games played by a student-athletes team. So why was Mullennix granted his sixth year, but Hunt was not?
I’m not picking on Matt Mullennix, either, by the way. I think he was deserving of his sixth year, just as I think Hunt is deserving of a sixth year as well. It was in the best interest of the student-athlete for Mullennix to receive an extra year of eligibility, and the NCAA apparently agreed in 2008. So what’s changed, and why is it so difficult for the NCAA to be consistent for once?
Case Keenum, current NFL quarterback and former record setter at the University of Houston, is another player who had a peculiar route to being granted a sixth year of eligibility. Keenum played in five seasons during his time at Houston. He didn’t just play a little, either, like when Hunt was on special teams for two plays. In 2007, Keenum appeared in 13 games. He played in 13 games in 2008. He played in 14 games in 2009. He played in three games in 2010, when he suffered a season-ending injury. And then, miraculously, he was granted his sixth year of eligibility and played in 14 more games in 2011.
As Keenum told ESPN.com, even he didn’t think he’d actually win his appeal with the NCAA and be granted a sixth year of eligibility. He only missed one season due to injury, so what gives? Well, the NCAA saw that he’d suffered an injury as a senior…in high school. Meaning that, in essence, the NCAA granted him a medical redshirt for a season in which he wasn’t even under their jurisdiction.
And again, I’m glad Keenum got to play another year. Good for him. The NCAA should be all about putting student-athletes on the field and letting them pursue their dreams and play the sports they love. So why is Terrel Hunt not being afforded that same chance? Case Keenum played in 57 games during his college career over the course of five seasons, while Hunt, again, only played in 19, with 12 of those coming in a single season.
Look, I get it, NCAA. You have rules written a certain way and you interpret them as you see fit on a case by case basis. But we’re not talking about a bad kid who doesn’t deserve a chance to play. We’re talking about a young man who has had an awful lot of hardship in his life, and has endured with his head held high, earning his undergraduate degree and finishing up his master’s degree this year.
You say you’re all about the welfare of the student-athletes, right? Well it’s time to step to the plate and prove it. There is nothing gained by denying Terrel Hunt, and other kids like him, an opportunity to play the game they love when circumstances beyond their control have been denying them that chance over, and over, and over.
Do the right thing, for once. Let Terrel Hunt have his sixth year.