The news that the NCAA denied former UConn forward Roscoe Smith's hardship waiver to play this season for UNLV got lost amid the excitement of the start of the Huskies' football season. But the development is important for college basketball and UConn. For starters, the NCAA has sent a clear message that a program facing sanctions doesn't qualify as a hardship for players who want to transfer.
(It's worth pointing out that in this case, the sanctions were related to academic performance, not, say, recruiting violations. We mention that because, in general, players like Smith shouldn't be punished -- at least in terms of transfer rules -- because coaches knowingly skirted NCAA guidelines and got caught. But while Jim Calhoun took responsibility for the team's academic shortcomings, ultimately, succeeding in the classroom falls on the players. This isn't an indictment against the academic performances of Alex Oriakhi, Michael Bradley or Smith -- three players who left UConn this spring -- but an overarching commentary on the distinction between the types of punishments and assessing blame for those punishments.)
So why did the NCAA approve Oriakhi's waiver while denying Smith's and Bradley's? Simple: Oriakhi, who is now at Missouri, is a rising senior and with UConn ineligible for the 2013 postseason, Oriakhi's eligibility would have been up after the season. Smith and Bradley are rising juniors and therefore not exempt under the hardship waiver. It's why Bradley, who originally intended to transfer to Western Kentucky instead ended up at Vincennes University, a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association, which means he can play immediately.
As blogger Evan Williams pointed out on BustingBrackets.com, the development, while not ideal for Smith in the short term, is probably in his -- and UNLV's -- best long-term interests.
"With a crowded frontcourt next season, Smith’s waiver denial is actually a blessing in disguise for both Smith and his new program," Williams wrote earlier this week. "Not only does this buy the 6-foot-8 forward a full year to learn Dave Rice’s system, but it opens up what would have been an overcrowded frontcourt with Smith.
"Thanks to the NCAA’s rejection of Roscoe Smith’s hardship waiver, UNLV can think of Smith—who will be at the school for three years as opposed to two—as more of a long-term recruit than a transfer rental. The NCAA made the right choice by refusing Smith immediate eligibility. And the Runnin’ Rebels should be grateful for that decision."
The decision also makes it tougher for would-be UConn transfers to up and leave because now it's unlikely the NCAA would be willing to approve a hardship waiver.