So Miles Bridges gets rubber-stamped in a few hours, while Shea Patterson twists in the wind for months. Say this for the NCAA and its strike zone: It’s all over the damn place, but it’s consistently all over the damn place.
“I still think it’s a coin-flip to decide, but I think the NCAA will do the right thing,” noted David Ridpath, associate professor of sport management at Ohio University and president of The Drake Group, an advocacy group seeking NCAA academic reform. “Shea Patterson will be available to start for Michigan [this fall]. It’s not a guarantee … that’s coming from a common-sense standpoint.”
Of course, if Mark Emmert’s tap-dance job on CBS over Saturday lunch was any indicator, “common sense” is relative, and the NCAA president’s docket right now, as you can imagine, is filling up rather quickly, given that the college basketball pool resembles the one at Bushwood Country Club right now:
The Rick Pitino Era at Louisville has been banished to the Phantom Zone and The Sean Miller Era at Arizona is on the fast track to join it. Yahoo Sports’ lid-lifting of the nationwide FBI investigation into college hoops bribery and fraud has people screaming for common sense reform, save for the folks who actually have the power to reform it.
Meanwhile, Patterson holds the bag in Ann Arbor, tossing touchdown passes in limbo.
“I guess there’s a chance that it could be next month,” Ridpath said of an NCAA ruling on Michigan’s quarterback, who transferred from Mississippi over the winter in the wake of the Rebels’ postseason ban. “Just like in the Louisville thing [last week], I had no idea. It just came up.”
‘I wish that he is given that waiver in a timely fashion’
It could be a week, basically. Or a month. Or two. And your guess, believe it or not, might be good as theirs, frankly. We asked a handful of NCAA policy experts three questions in regard to Patterson’s petition to play for the Wolverines this fall after his recent transfer from Ole Miss:
1. What’s going to happen? 2. When? 3. If you had a nickel, which way would you wager on No. 20 being free and clear to suit up in Maize and Blue in 2018?
“No. 1, I’m not a betting person. I will tell you what I wish,” offered Ellen J. Staurowsky, a professor at Drexel University’s department of sport management, co-author of the book College Athletes For Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA Amateur Myth, and a witness for the plaintiff in O’Bannon v. NCAA.
“I wish that Shea Patterson is given that waiver. I wish that he is given that waiver in a timely fashion, which means, essentially, now. And not only for him, but also for the other players that have been affected by this as well. This was not something of their construction and they should not be nailed as a result of it.
“This is a severely compromised system. This is not a system of the athletes’ making. As a result of that, there should be an appropriate response to allowing these athletes to fulfill their playing careers in places where they can have success, unfettered by rules violations that are really a testament to the dysfunctions in the system, and that they were having no party to.”
Which brings us to the dysfunction part of the Patterson narrative. Student-athletes transferring from one Division I program to another have to sit out a season, with rare exceptions. One of them is for egregious behavior, and Michigan’s compliance department and Tom Mars, Patterson’s lawyer, contend that Ole Miss resorted to subterfuge to deceive recruits from the class of 2016 — including Patterson, 247Sports’ No. 3 prospect nationally that winter — as to the severity of an NCAA investigation into the Rebels’ football program.
To use Watergate parlance, it wasn’t the lie so much as it was the cover-up. Ole Miss received official notice of allegations from the NCAA in January 2016, just before National Signing Day, and reportedly misled media and recruits as to its scope and depth. The kids were told the misdeeds were largely on former coach Houston Nutt’s tab and inconsequential.
‘Personally, I think he will be found eligible.’
— Ohio University professor and NCAA expert David Ridpath on Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson
As it turned out, neither was true, and the NCAA in December slapped the football program with a two-year bowl ban, reductions in scholarships and three years of probation.
“The Ole Miss revelations that came out from the Houston Nutt case and the conscious media effort on the part of Ole Miss in terms of that  recruiting class — the combination of all those things are things that I think provide compelling arguments to allow this player to play,” Staurowsky said.
“I’m sure there will be arguments on the other side — any hesitation in this regard may come from not knowing exactly what players knew and what they didn’t know. To me, if you can’t prove it, and you’ve got other evidence that proved compelling for these players to play, then don’t hold them up in the process.
“I think what is more interesting to me is that there is this kind of control … where the athletes have had to get an attorney to advocate on their behalf and to make their case. You know, it’s really saying something about the system and the way the rules are set up that student-athletes can be collateral damage in the penalty structure, and the NCAA feels justified in doing so.”
‘It’s really a discretionary call’
Ridpath taught at Mississippi State for a spell a decade ago and saw firsthand just how cutthroat and competitive the SEC — and the state of Mississippi — can be when it comes to football self-preservation. When a program is under fire, it’s every man, coach and child for themselves, ethics — and student-athletes — be damned.
“I find it very easy to believe that the student-athletes were misled over the potential severity of the sanctions [that were coming],” said Ridpath, who was a witness in the defamation case filed by former Bulldogs coach Jackie Sherrill against the NCAA.
“I think Shea Patterson and the other Ole Miss athletes, they have a great case for contending that they were misled by Ole Miss. … Personally, I think he will be found eligible.”
Common sense says the kids of 2016, Patterson included, land in the strike zone for an exemption and are cleared to get on with their lives. But the coin is still in the air, and anything’s possible, given that the mug squatting behind the plate has been tone-deaf for decades.
“It’s hard to say,” countered Mark Conrad, a professor of sports law and director of the sports business program at Fordham University. “I’d say there’s a 50 percent chance [Patterson] could, given the publicity involved. It’s hard to predict that stuff, from a fan’s point of view and a legal point of view, as well, because it’s discretionary.
“That’s the problem: It’s really a discretionary call. It’s really hard to guess what’s going to be a ‘yes’ and what’s going to be a ‘no.’ There’s no hard and fast rule on it.”
And with this ump, it ain’t the eyes that worry you. It’s the ears.
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