by Kent Sterling
For people interested in a quick primer as to why reasonable men and women want to see a recalibration of NCAA rules and policies, if not an entire redux of the relationship between athletic departments and athletes, please enjoy the story of Leticia Romero.
Romero just finished her freshman year at Kansas State where she was one of the best best women’s basketball newcomers in the Big 12. The best player on a bad team, even Romero’s excellence (14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game) couldn’t save coach Deb Patterson’s job.
Because the coach she came to play for was canned, Romero – a newcomer to the United State from Spain, decided her needs could be better serviced elsewhere. K-State exercised its right not to release her, and then asked for Romero to prepare a list of schools where she might be interested in transferring. Romero assumed that K-State would approve at least a few of them, so her list was a long one – either 94 or 100 schools, depending upon the report.
K-State threw a curve and denied all schools on the list. Romero appealed, and the appeals committee denied her plea. The reason cited was potential tampering issues by the previous coaching staff, which moved on to Northern Colorado.
Oddly, Romero’s very long list of potential schools presented for K-State’s okay did not include Northern Colorado, so what tampering might have been taking place was never answered by K-State officials.
School officials claimed that the decision of the committee is final and cannot be overturned, which seemed ludicrous because the rule that would make the committee’s decision absolute and the last word would be a K-State rule that could be overturned at their whim.
Just a week ago, K-State vice president Jeffrey Morris said, “Thus, the university process concludes with the appeals committee’s decision. Also, the final and binding nature of these decisions does not allow for them to be overturned by university administrators.”
ESPN quotes K-State athletic director John Currie as he hilariously tried to claim the high ground three days ago, “Although it is unprecedented, I believe that it is in this student-athlete’s best interest for the committee to reconvene to consider this new information and potentially approve her request for a conditional transfer release.”
Suddenly, the best interest of the student-athlete is tantamount among his concerns. Oh sure. The pressure national media brought to bear had nothing to do with the sudden change of heart.
Today, Romero was granted her release. I guess “final and binding” has a different meaning than in the rest of the English speaking world.
The lone condition of Romero’s transfer is that she cannot transfer within the Big 12, but is allowed to head anywhere else.
In the end justice was done, and Romero is free to play basketball wherever she likes outside the Big 12, but it took a lot of outrage being expressed by many at ESPN and CBS to motivate administrators to locate the right thing to do.
When schools can exert that level of control over a kid in their own self-interest, something needs to change. Amoral administrators minus adequate oversight make decisions that defy reason.
My guess is the phone in Currie’s office rang, and a very serious person was on the other end of the line – maybe the person to whom Currie reports. The didn’t ask for an explanation, just a speedy resolution. If you want a bureaucrat to make the right call, finding the lever that causes his or her boss to call for action is the only sure way.
Minus the threat of unemployment, Romero would likely still be stuck in dreary old Manhattan.