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Ayegba’s NCAA suspension is a personal foul
While flying halfway across the world from his native Nigeria last fall, Moses Ayegba was probably thinking about pursuing his education in the United States and the excitement of playing Division I College Basketball. He probably never would have guessed that the plane ticket he held in his hand would cost him nine games of eligibility, the bulk of Georgetown’s pre-conference schedule, after the NCAA discovered that it had been a gift. The severity of his penalty was certainly unfair, but the NCAA’s disregard for Ayegba’s commitment to righting his mistakes during the appeals process was even more disappointing. Going forward, the NCAA must consider the individual circumstances of the students it oversees instead of blindly applying general guidelines to complicated cases of alleged misconduct.
The NCAA handed down Ayegba’s suspension last summer after it discovered that his caretaker, Joseph Bancore, paid for the $1,400 ticket that brought him to the United States. This violated the pre-enrollment rules that prohibit such gifts to amateur athletes. After the ruling, however, Ayegba quickly took steps to take responsibility for his error and satisfy the conditions for his reinstatement as mandated by the NCAA. Although he is taking a full course load and has a demanding athletic regimen, over the course of the summer and fall semester he worked two jobs to try to earn enough money to donate the cost of the plane ticket to a local charity. Instead of considering his commitment to promptly making sure this condition was being met, the NCAA upheld its ruling to suspend him for a third of the season—the harshest possible penalty for receiving gifts over $1,000.
The effects of Ayegba’s suspension will certainly extend beyond the nine games of his ineligibility. His lack of pre-conference experience will limit his minutes during the grueling Big East schedule that immediately follows his reinstatement. Because Georgetown head coach, John Thompson III, said he will not redshirt the freshman center this year, Ayegba’s collegiate career and the team at large will effectively be disrupted for an entire season for a relatively minor infraction.
The spirit of NCAA amateur rules is to promote fairness throughout the recruiting process and to ensure that students remain committed to their development on and off of the court during their time in school. In choosing to attend a school with Georgetown’s rigorous academic standards, Ayegba has proven he is committed to the best qualities of the collegiate student-athlete. The NCAA should reward this commitment with additional consideration and a focus on the individual students rather than simply relying on inflexible rules.