NCAA can't claim legitimacy in track championships without Spenner
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2013 15:03
Just five days after competing in six events at the Summit League Indoor Championships, Sami Spenner went to the U.S. Track and Field Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. and cemented her reputation as one of Division I’s best athletes.
On Feb. 25, she was named the Field MVP at the conference championships. March 1 Spenner finished fourth in the pentathlon and bested her own school record with a final score of 4,271 points.
Spenner’s result in Albuquerque was just 207 points behind winner Sharon Day, last summer’s runner-up at the Olympic Trials. Weeks later Day went on to wear the red, white and blue and compete in the 2012 London Games.
But despite those facts, the NCAA denied UNO’s request to grant Spenner a waiver to compete in any NCAA championship events. Steve Smith, the head coach of UNO track and field, likens the NCAA’s handling of Spenner to the football program at Southern Methodist receiving the death penalty in 1987
“Sami’s career is getting treated the same as SMU’s football program getting the death penalty,” Smith said. “The NCAA can call it what they want and they can give reasons for what they want, [but] there are no logical reasons. It doesn’t help the school, it doesn’t help the team, it doesn’t help the athletes, [and] it doesn’t help the NCAA. The only thing it does is hurt a team or an athlete.”
Spenner’s score at the U.S. Indoor Championships was the second-best score in all of Division I this year. The nation’s top mark in the outdoor heptathlon for 2013 is 5,243 points held by Ali Worthen at Seattle Pacific.
Spenner has already passed that mark once in her career. At the 2012 Drake Relays she put up a school record 5,593 points, a number that was also second-best in the whole country.
There’s no reason to think Spenner won’t be able to continue an already strong season and beat last year’s mark in the 2013 outdoor season. In the last two months alone she’s already broken the pentathlon school record twice.
In addition, Spenner has won The Summit League award for Female Athlete of the Week after every meet she’s competed in, and she’s won Female Athlete of the Month both times the award has been given away. Yet with all her wins, all her records and all her accolades the NCAA can’t help but shove its rule book in Spenner’s face.
The NCAA was more than happy to take UNO’s $1.4 million Division I application fee but can’t seem to find the time to review Spenner’s case. Granted, the case was reviewed but how long committee members deliberated we’ll never know.
Anyone with the ability to read can look at Spenner’s case and recognize how special it is within a matter of moments. The only way the NCAA could review UNO’s argument and all the facts presented and still return a decision of denial comes down to one of two things: either they didn’t really look or they don’t really care.
“They didn’t have any examples, and in fact through the course of our research we couldn’t come up with any either,” said the athletic department’s Director of Compliance Matt Jakobsze. “Part of our mitigating circumstances is she’s that unique. There aren’t any other instances where reclassifying institutions had a team or student-athlete of this caliber. So it won’t set a bad precedent in that sense.”
Reclassification is the reason the NCAA pointed to and likely the reason that will continue to come up. But as Smith said, it’s hard to understand how keeping Spenner out of competing in the national championship does any good for anyone.
After speaking to Jakobsze it was clear the athletic department was doing everything in their power to make sure Spenner’s inclusion didn’t cause hardship to anyone else.
Jakobsze indicated UNO would decline any team points Spenner may earn during competition. Student-athletes who compete in national championships are reimbursed for travel, food and lodging. UNO said they’d pick up the check.
The university even went so far as to decline individual points for Spenner, meaning she could compete but wouldn’t win any trophy regardless of her final score. None of those concessions were good enough for college sports’ governing body.
Although UNO presented several good ideas for getting Spenner in, the only legitimate gripe the NCAA could come back with, other than reclassification, is participation numbers.
Normally the NCAA limits the number of competitors for an event at 16. In recent years the NCAA has followed that rule while also including a rule which capped total participation at 284 athletes.