Micah Potter's case again shows the NCAA's true priorities

Micah Potter appealed his case to the NCAA earlier this year, but was denied eligibility even after sitting out the 2018-19' season.

Micah Potter appealed his case to the NCAA earlier this year, but was denied eligibility even after sitting out the 2018-19' season.

Image By: Taylor Wolfram

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: an NCAA decision is hurting a student athlete. 

I could be talking about Chase Young’s suspension because he accepted a loan from a family friend to help his girlfriend travel to the Rose Bowl. Or the current weird eligibility battle for star Memphis freshman James Wiseman for accepting a gift from current head coach Penny Hardaway. 

Those cases technically follow the NCAA’s stated goal of protecting the amateurism of college athletics, even if I believe it’s a terrible misguided mission that has allowed the NCAA and Universities to make billions of dollars based on what you could consider unpaid labor. I don’t like their rulings, but until the NCAA actually changes their rules, it’s the unfortunate situation athletes are shoved into.

Instead, I’m talking about Wisconsin forward Micah Potter, who despite sitting out a full season after he announced he would transfer to UW for the Spring 2018, is still ineligible to play for the Badgers. 

Potter is ineligible not because of any alleged payments. Instead, he took the “student” part of the NCAA’s favorite exploitative phrase “student-athlete” very seriously, and he is not able to play.

On Monday, UW officials were granted a “teleconference” with the NCAA’s Legislative Relief Committee. It was a chance for Potter, his lawyer, Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard and other UW officials to beg to the seven-man committee to let him play.

It’s as if the NCAA is letting him have his one phone call from their police department. 

And it’s a mess the NCAA created all by themselves, and it’s directly hurting Potter, who by all accounts has done everything the NCAA could want from their prized “student-athletes.” The only statistics that Potter has been able to put up since the 2018-2019 men’s basketball season is GPA: and his is really good — a 3.5 GPA during his time at Ohio State and a 3.3 GPA in the spring and summer at Wisconsin. 

So despite acclimating well to academic life at his new university, Potter was still denied after appeal. 

What does he think about it?

“I don’t understand why I am being punished additionally for doing what is encouraged of a student-athlete,” Potter said in a statement after his waiver request was denied. “The penalty of a third semester to what I have already sat out seems unjust.”

That idea of unjustness was echoed by Greg Gard, who said it feels “unfair” to Micah to be forced to sit out an extra semester. 

Technically, the NCAA is making the right decision based on their bylaws. Under 14.5.5.1, a student will not be eligible until the student “fulfilled a residence requirement of one full academic year (two full semesters).” But considering that Potter already sat a whole season last year, it seems like a time when an exception could be made.

And frustratingly enough for Potter, many exceptions have been made by the NCAA for this season for players who had played many games last season. 

When the Badgers faced off against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in their season opener, the Gaels started guard Logan Johnson, a transfer from Cincinnati who played 32 games for the Bearcats last year. He was granted an NCAA exception to allow him to be eligible. 

Meanwhile, Potter needed a “one-time NCAA travel waiver” to join his teammates in Sioux Falls. And he did not play a minute last season. 

If that seems infuriating, imagine how steamed Micah Potter and his teammates and coaches are, especially since Gard said there hasn’t been a timeline on the decision from the NCAA. 

“Not many things make me raise my blood pressure. This is one that does,” Greg Gard said. 

In the NCAA’s Guide for Four-Year Transfers, it says on the top of its first full page “student-athlete success on the field, in the classroom and in life is at the heart of the NCAA’s mission.” Potter has already shown success in the classroom at both Ohio State and UW-Madison, but right now he’s not being allowed to be on the court. 

And unfortunately for Potter, the clock is ticking on his NCAA eligibility. As a Division-I athlete, the NCAA rules say an athlete has five calendar years to play four seasons, and Greg Gard — who is probably as frustrated at answering questions about Potter’s status as he is about him being ineligible — thinks that the NCAA is in the wrong with their refusal of a transfer waiver. 

“I don’t feel it’s right to have [Potter] continue to wait when he has such a small window to play. They have eight semesters to compete, he’s already sat out a year, if he gets one taken away, he loses one-eighth of his whole career,” Gard said. 

The NCAA does not have the best of reputations, to put it lightly. That’s also not likely to change anytime soon.

But letting Micah Potter play after he’s sat out for a season would at least help one student athlete. 

And if you are truly “dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes,” then act like it. 

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