The NCAA handed down its decision today concerning the eligibility of current Maryland Terrapins freshman Sam Cassell Jr., and it wasn’t a favorable one for the Terrapin Nation.
Maryland had appealed the NCAA’s initial ruling that was passed down earlier in the week and despite their attempt, the NCAA denied their motion. Terrapins head coach Mark Turgeon, while not pleased with the end result, could not fault the university’s efforts.
“We’ve exhausted every option and made our best effort,” said Turgeon in a news release. “I’m very pleased with the work that our compliance staff put in on Sam’s behalf. Obviously, we’re very disappointed that he will be unable to attend the University of Maryland at this time and be a part of our basketball program. We will continue to support Sam and his family in any way that we can as they determine their next steps.”
Those next steps, at this time, appear to be Cassell Jr. finding a new school to enroll in. Because of a discrepancy in the classes Cassell Jr. took at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., he was labeled as a partial qualifier. Currently, no ACC schools allow for partial qualifiers to receive scholarships.
The NCAA informed Maryland of this issue concerning the eligibility of Cassell Jr. in mid-August. The core classes that he took his senior year at Notre Dame Prep were deemed no good by the NCAA. Notre Dame Prep was placed on the NCAA’s “Watch List” as a result.
As I noted in previous posts on this subject, the courses Cassell Jr. took were the same as his teammates that had graduated the year prior and were allotted Division 1 basketball scholarships with no eligibility penalties. This begs two questions: what exactly changed over the span of one year? And if this discrepancy with Notre Dame Prep’s curriculum didn’t come to light until after Cassell Jr. had initially made it through the NCAA clearinghouse, then why not grandfather him in under the rule that allowed all of the same Notre Dame Prep players from one year prior to accept their scholarships in his case?
Clearly, I can’t answer that first question and quite frankly there might only be a handful of people who can. I can, however, give my opinion on the second question I raised.
The issue of “basketball factories” popping up in the form of prep and charter schools is a major concern for the NCAA. Now, I am not suggesting that Notre Dame Prep should be lumped in with those types of institutions, as its doors have been open for over 70 years now, but it definitely fits the bill. Meaning it’s a school made up of a small amount of students that’s mostly known for its basketball success. In my opinion, and please note this is just my opinion and no statement of fact, the NCAA is making an example out of Notre Dame Prep in order to put “the fear of God” in some of these other charter and prep “schools” that are without a doubt questionable.
I can understand, and do agree with, the NCAA’s concern over these types of institutions existing. However in this case, the person who is hung out to dry had no idea they were doing anything wrong by attending this school. The NCAA can pat itself on the back for doing what it believes is the right thing in preserving the amateurism of its student-athletes, but now Sam Cassell Jr. is stuck in a sticky situation he never planned on being in.
The NCAA is making an example out of Notre Dame Prep and Sam Cassell Jr. is the one paying the price. It is unfortunate that he will not be allowed to be a Maryland Terrapin after going through the entire recruiting process and deciding the best fit for him was in College Park. Now, after classes have started at the majority of college campuses throughout the country, Cassell Jr. is on the hunt for a new “best fit”, a hunt I am sure he never thought he would find himself on.
Wherever Cassell Jr. ends up, we wish him the best and hope he was a stellar collegiate career. It is a shame that he couldn’t live out what I’d imagine was a dream come true and run out onto Gary Williams Court as a Maryland Terrapin.