Spring Mailbag II
This first question was sent before Luke Ford's tweet stating that his waiver application was denied. So no need to click on the tweet and respond "did you not see the tweet yesterday?". But this is probably a good place to address the issue. So... everyone pretend like it's Tuesday.
Can you interpret the Brock Hoffman / Virginia Tech news any other way than "no way Luke Ford plays for the Illini this year?"
-- Chris Watts (@cwwatts01) April 24, 2019
For those who don't know, Brock Hoffman applied for a waiver to play immediately at Virginia Tech because of his mother's surgery. The NCAA denied the waiver. There's some discussion on why that happened, and how his waiver application might be approved on appeal, but that's our jumping-off point here.
Here's my thoughts. Yes, the NCAA has started approving waivers left and right. No, Tate Martell didn't get his waiver approved because he didn't win the starting job at Ohio State. Yes, it's disappointing that Luke Ford's waiver was denied. No, that process isn't over. Yes, I need to clarify all these things.
The biggest reason waivers have been approved, in my view: coaching changes. The NCAA recently changed their rule to say that if a coach is fired in the summer (like Tim Beckman was), incoming recruits can transfer immediately without penalty. They also seem to be approving every waiver application from every player leaving a school with a coaching change. Tate Martell tells the NCAA "I came here to play for Urban Meyer, and then he retired", and that's an auto-approval now (apparently).
When the NCAA loosened the waiver standards last year, they stated that a waiver would be granted if the student athlete "documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete's control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete". Part of those mitigating circumstances, apparently - a coach leaving. And I agree with that. A player signed up to play for one coach and he's no longer there. I don't really see that as "health, safety, and well-being", but whatever. I agree.
Then there are other waiver applications such as Luke Ford and the Virginia Tech guy. The Virginia Tech guy submitted his based on the same request that Jay Prosch made when he transferred from Illinois to Auburn. Prosch's mom had been diagnosed with brain cancer and Prosch moved home to be closer to her. The NCAA immediately granted that one. Why did they not grant the request from Brock Hoffman (the Virginia Tech player)? Well, that's complicated.
His mom had surgery in "early 2017" after an acoustic neuroma diagnosis. If that sounds familiar, it's because each Illini Lift For Life (raise money for rare diseases) is centered around acoustic neuroma research. Former Illini lineman Andrew Carter retired from football after acoustic neuroma surgery (removes a benign tumor the develops on the nerves that lead from your inner ear to your brain, often causing hearing loss).
The NCAA's reasoning in denying that waiver was that his mother's condition is improving. If I am allowed to read between the lines a little bit, I would assume that this reasoning is "your mother had this surgery in 2017, yet you didn't transfer home for the 2017 season nor the 2018 season. Now, for the 2019 season, Virginia Tech needs offensive linemen so your pointing to this surgery as the reason you should be immediately eligible".
(The weirdest thing about this whole deal, as Dennis Dodd has pointed out - Coastal Carolina had a coaching change, so if they had applied for a waiver based on that and not the surgery, they almost certainly would have had it approved.)
I understand the debate on the need for a waiver process. Some people believe that it should be like Volleyball - anyone can transfer anywhere without having to sit out. I'm of the belief that this would harm a program like Illinois more than perhaps any program in the country (we'd be a farm system for Michigan), but that's another debate. For now, there's a waiver process, the restrictions have been loosened, yet a waiver for a sick grandfather has been denied for Luke Ford.
Is it "wildly unfair"? Will you hate me if I say I don't think so? Is this a situation of "Tate Martell was approved because they're Miami and Luke Ford was denied because we're Illinois"? No. Martell had a coaching change to point to, Ford did not.
Look, I made fun of Missouri (and the St. Louis Post Dispatch) for whining and whining about Evansville transfer Dru Smith not getting approved last year. Missouri even pointed to Mark Smith and asked Evansville to support the same "hostile environment" claims. But beyond all of that, beyond all of their tearing of clothes and gnashing of teeth, Missouri needed a guard. They just wanted to put on a show in hopes that their player, who didn't have a decent waiver claim at the time (irony: he would now under the new guidelines, given that Evansville had a coaching change), might be approved. Ben Fredrickson of the Post-Dispatch took up the cause and wrote 122 "SHAME ON YOU, NCAA" columns. What went unwritten: "the team I cheer for really, really needs a guard".
The team I cheer for really, really needs a tight end. It's impossible for me to separate that from "come on, NCAA - do the right thing". I believe that Ford should be approved based on his sick grandpa (and Fredrickson believe Dru Smith should be eligible for Mizzou because if coaches can change programs, players should be able to) based on noble reasons. Sick relatives! NCAA controlling student's lives! But really? I just selfishly want Luke Ford to play football next year and am hoping that a sick grandfather in southern Illinois is enough.
According to the NCAA, it's not. We'll appeal, and hopefully we'll win the appeal, but beyond that, I'm over this issue. When he transferred we expected him to sit out (just like Milo Eifler who could have really helped last year), and now he'll sit out. I'm having trouble mustering THIS IS AN OUTRAGE because I know myself too well. I don't really think it's an outrage - I just want a top-100 tight end to catch passes in 2019. They denied the waiver because our claim was outside the guidelines.
One other thing to note in this (now) one-answer Mailbag post. If Ford completes his eligibility in Champaign (and I think he will - I don't believe he's the early entry type, although I'd love to be wrong), he will now play the 2022 season instead of the 2019 season. And given the cliff we're facing after all of these juniors graduate after the 2020 season, maybe that's a... good thing to have him for both 2021 and 2022? Maybe 2022 Luke Ford catches 47 passes where 2019 Luke Ford would have caught 13? As an avowed "22 year-olds are better at football than 19 year-olds" guy, I can see a very bright silver lining in this.
OK, that's all I have to say. Go ahead and toss your tomatoes.