Usually when a college sports team goes up against the NCAA when it comes to an eligibility issue, the sanctioning body has no problem putting its foot down. So when Oakland went to bat for its freshman forward Isaiah Brock, it was facing pretty long odds.
But in this case, however, the NCAA decided that its initial assessment was wrong. And Brock, who spent four years in the United States Army prior to joining the Golden Grizzlies, would be eligible for the 2016-17 season.
The swaying rebuttal to the NCAA’s original decision, of course, was Brock’s military service, which became well-documented between the initial denial of his eligibility and its eventual reversal.
Brock, by his own admission, was a less-than-stellar student while at Forest Park High School in his native Baltimore, and chose the military as a more secure pathway to his future. For much of his time in the Army, which included a six-month stint in Afghanistan, he served as a mortuary affairs specialist.
“When a solider dies on the battlefield, we’ll go retrieve them, and they’ll come to us,” Brock said to Detroit Free Press. “We’ll process their remains, search through their belongings, search through their body, annotate all their wounds and everything that happened. You see all the ramp ceremonies with the flag draped over their body? That’s what we do, then we send them home.”
Also, during his military service, Brock grew from six feet to his present height of 6’8, and, during a chance encounter in Kuwait, met Oakland head coach Greg Kampe, who offered him a scholarship after his time in the Army was up.
The physical development was a mere complement to the internal growth Brock experienced. Recognizing the lack of effort he put into high school, he earned high marks in college courses he took while in the Army and worked hard to get a qualifying ACT score to be admitted to Oakland.
After being accepted, Brock worked to prove that his college coursework in the military was no fluke. His initial semester saw him earn B’s in his first courses, providing further proof that he was serious about his academics.
None of this personal growth seemed to factor into the NCAA’s original decision, though. In its eyes, Brock’s lack of performance in the classroom while in high school was enough to lead them to the conclusion he need another year before he could play.
The public, of course, had no real problem reminding the NCAA that this line of thinking was kind of silly. Brock was so far removed from the underachieving student he was that overlooking how he’s grown since graduation was rather unfair.
Also, the public wasn’t shy about the fact that the NCAA put a roadblock on a player who, by and large, will be a developing role player, heading off at the pass the idea that somehow Oakland was trying to get some sort of competitive advantage.
What is striking about this entire situation is that it does seem to shine a spotlight on the hole the NCAA appears to have when it comes to student-athletes coming from the military. Like Brock, many see the armed forces as an avenue to move beyond what they accomplished in high school, good, bad or indifferent.
And while that have been many former members of the military that have made the transition with no problem, the Brock case originally appeared to not take his service to country into account. Perhaps it was because the GPAs of previous ex-military student athletes weren’t as low as Brock’s were prior to joining the Golden Grizzlies.
But the entire situation should serve as an opportunity for the NCAA to review how it looks at military service as a whole.
The military, in some ways, shares a number of similarities with community colleges, in that the armed forces provides a wide range of education beyond high school. However, none of the classroom training provided by the military can transfer to any college or university.
For example, Brock, whose specialty in the Army was mortuary science, likely included coursework equivalent to that of someone who, say, completed their Associate’s degree.
The concept of understanding education and training within the military and how it should be applied to higher education is part of a much larger conversation colleges and universities should be having. But in terms of athletic eligibility, the NCAA probably should have looked at this service the first time around, rather than initially deny Brock’s eligibility and face public scrutiny.
Sure, the NCAA’s “better safe than sorry” approach to these matters has been applied to a number of situations over the years, most recently its decision to do away with the hardship waiver in 2015.
At the same time, for an organization that includes, within its membership, all the military academies, perhaps it’s time to change the rules so that student-athletes such as Brock won’t have to jump through so much bureaucracy the next time.
Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.
Image via Oakland University Athletics