On Friday, the NCAA informed UConn that Evina Westbrook’s waiver to play immediately after transferring from Tennessee was denied. Head coach Geno Auriemma expressed his disappointment, not just with the decision but with the process as a whole.
“Every day you pick up the paper, you see this kid yes, this kid no, this kid yes, this kid no, this guy yes, this guy no. You start to wonder, do people who work at the NCAA actually have any idea what goes on on campuses or should this decision be actually made by people who have coached, people who have been administrators?” he said.
“I’m disappointed personally because I don’t agree with how this system works. There should be ‘anybody who transfers has to sit out, no questions asked’ or ‘you know what, anybody who transfers gets a one-time waiver.’”
According to NCAA bylaws, players must have dealt with “specific, extraordinary circumstance” out of their control in order to get a waiver. While Auriemma didn’t go into specifics, he noted that the committee tasked with Westbrook’s waiver felt her situation did not meet that criteria. Auriemma disagreed.
“One of the comments made by the committee was what happened to Evina was pretty much normal,” he said. “Well if that’s normal, then everybody else that I talk to has been doing it the wrong way. Because if one of my players went through what Evina went through, there’d be an investigation. It wasn’t normal.”
The waiver process also isn’t one-sided. While UConn submits the waiver, the NCAA also hears from Tennessee. Part of Auriemma’s frustrations stemmed from the fact that when players leave the Huskies, he’s willing to help their waiver. He didn’t think Tennessee did the same.
“We’ve had kids leave here and I’ve had no reservations about saying ‘I support the kid’s decision. As long as the kid’s telling the truth, I support the kid’s decision.’ And we have. We have never held back a kid,” he said. “And unfortunately the information this committee got from some people at Tennessee wasn’t really accurate.”
“I don’t think there’s anything spiteful coming from Tennessee,” he continued later. “I just think they could have been a little more helpful and they chose not to be.”
Auriemma wasn’t the only one upset with the NCAA’s decision on Westbrook. UConn athletic director David Benedict said in a statement that the waiver matched the necessary criteria put out by the NCAA, yet it was still denied.
“We had our compliance staff involved and, utilizing the exact guidelines the NCAA recently put out, we submitted a request for a transfer waiver to allow her to become immediately eligible based on some extenuating circumstances beyond her control that were significantly affecting her, the specifics of which I will not get into. That request, which I understand included more than 100 pages of supporting material, contained the exact type of objective documentation the new guidelines identified as supportive of a waiver.”
While the denial of the waiver is certainly a major blow to Westbrook’s chances to play this season, not all is lost. UConn will appeal to the decision to the D1 Committee for Legislative Relief, a seven-person board from Division I schools, as opposed to the NCAA itself. If the Huskies submit the appeal by Tuesday, a verdict will come back Wednesday. (Update: UConn clarified that the appeal will likely take closer to a week). While they won’t present any new information, Auriemma is hopeful this makes a difference.
“How much can you change (with the appeal)? We pretty much gave them everything we have, it’s a different set of eyes and there may be little tweaks here and then since then, but the body of what’s at issue here is essentially going to be the same,” he said.
“My hope is that people who actually have been in a position where they know this is what a student athlete goes through every day. They know what it’s like to go to a big school, small school, medium school, play a sport, a high-profile sport, not a high-profile sport, this is what it feels like, this is what it’s supposed to be like, this is the experience you’re supposed to have.
“For them to say that [Westbrook’s] experience is normal, they’ve never been on a campus. They’ve never been on a team. I’m anxious for someone who’s actually been in that situation to look at this. I mean if they tell us no, I’ll feel much better. But right now I don’t feel so good about it.”
Until the team gets a final no on Wednesday, Auriemma isn’t going to admit defeat.
“We’ll know more next Wednesday whether she has to sit out or not, so I’m not giving up yet,” he said. “I’m counting on more reasonable people to come to their senses.”