Commentary | Lakewood Ranch player's plight points out unfairness of NCAA rules

February 9, 2014 

You saw the signing day the NCAA wanted you to see.

What you didn't see is what the organization that runs big-time college football keeps hidden from public view.

So you don't know about Wyatt McLeod's broken heart and Hiawatha Rutland's broken body.

The parents who cheered on that day likely know nothing about the medical insurance policy that will protect their sons because nearly every school has a different one and most are clouded in secrecy.

You didn't hear about the scholarship shortfalls that don't pay for the cost of attendance and how scholarships in 90 percent of the cases are one-year deals renewable at the coach's discretion.

It's a reason college football players at Northwestern University recently petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to become unionized.

If the NCAA isn't going to help the athletes who make major college football a billion-dollar industry, the players have to do it themselves.

The argument that room, tuition and books are sufficient reward is fallacy. If you are a player who can't qualify for a low-income Pell Grant, you are paying to play college football and for your coach's multimillion-dollar salary.

McLeod's case is different, but it's an example of a system geared only to help those in power: the school and its coaches.

Around midseason, McLeod was offered a football scholarship by Miami of Ohio. The Lakewood Ranch tight end/hybrid back accepted.

Then things unraveled.

The head coach was fired, but members of his staff remained at Miami of Ohio, and McLeod was promised the verbal commitment would hold until he could sign.

Less than two weeks before the Feb. 5th signing day, Lakewood Ranch head football coach

Shawn Trent was told that McLeod's scholarship would not be honored.

"The coaches from that school will never be welcome here again," Trent said.

Marshall University had been recruiting McLeod but stopped when he verbally committed. Other Division I schools had shown interest in the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder but also backed off.

"I was disappointed because they said they would honor it and expected me to honor my commitment," McLeod said. "I realize it's a business thing. A new coach comes in and wants his own guys. But I think they should've called me personally. It hurt that they waited almost until signing day. I was left with nothing."

McLeod's situation is not unique. It's a reason the NCAA needs to overhaul many of its rules.

Situations like McLeod's could be avoided if the NCAA allowed players to sign letters of intent their junior year and mandate the school is obligated to honor the agreement.

Rutland was a standout running back for Southeast. He signed with Iowa State in 1999 and suffered "drop foot" his senior year. Now a teacher in New York City, he has been fighting the NCAA for what he says are treatments that could dramatically help him.

Drop foot is caused by nerve damage to the knee. The injury affects the ability to raise the foot at the ankle. It sometimes forces Rutland to drag his foot.

Rutland has been battling the NCAA and its insurance provider for nearly a decade. The hospital for Special Surgery in New York City gave him a prescription for a Synvisc injection to deal with the arthritis in his knee and delay the need for knee replacement. It's his fifth prescription in 10 years that has gone unfilled because the NCAA won't approve it, saying it's an experimental procedure. Rutland says it's not.

"College football looks exciting on TV, but there is a lot more happening than what they show you on Saturday," Rutland said. "I don't know who to talk to, who to ask for help. Even if players can't receive money personally, they should have a say on where they money goes, especially if it directly affects your health."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service