UPDATE (1/10/2019): al.com is reporting that House Republicans in Montgomery have unanimously passed a resolution asking the AHSAA to reinstate Maori Davenport. One has even drafted legislation which would subject the high school athletics governing body to government oversight.
If you happened to watch the Alabama-Kentucky basketball game over the weekend, you might have seen Jay Bilas take down the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and its executive director Steve Savarese. You may know Steve Savarese, because he was previously the head football coach at both Daphne and McGill-Toolen High Schools.
At issue is the eligibility of a girls high school basketball player. Maori Davenport is unable to play her senior season for Charles Henderson High School because she's been ruled ineligible by the AHSAA. Davenport is one of the best young basketball players in the country and even played for USA Basketball's under-18 team. While representing her country, she won a gold medal.
Unfortunately, that's where the problems begin. USA Basketball pays stipends to players for participating, to help cover their expenses, provided it is not against the rules of their high school athletic association. In Alabama, the rules state that an award of more than $250 will count against a player's eligibility. So before paying a player their stipend, USA Basketball always asks before sending a check.
Except this time, when someone forgot to ask.
Maori Davenport received a stipend check for about $857 and put it in the bank. When USA Basketball discovered the error, they immediately informed Davenport and two other players who had also been unintentionally paid, and Davenport's mom sent back the money. Mistake made, mistake fixed, no big deal, right? Right?
But that's not how the AHSAA saw the situation. They saw a high school athlete who'd accepted payment and was therefore no longer an amateur -- because of a clerical error. This potential McDonald's All-American and star basketball player would not be allowed to play her senior season in high school. In a conversation with Jay Bilas, Steve Savarese went on the record to say the decision was his and that his "charge is to uphold the rules." He clearly did not think an exception should be made, even when the payment was an accident not of her doing -- and was given back!
The AHSAA Handbook calls this a violation of the Amateur Rule, which reads; "No award of any kind having a monetary value of more than 250 dollars... shall be made to students. Acceptance of awards exceeding these limitations shall disqualify a student."
Yes, Maori Davenport accepted the payment. She's a teenager and a check came in the mail. I'm sure she figured it was allowed, or why would they send her a check? And she'd almost certainly paid that much to play for Team USA. But the money was returned once the error was discovered, and at that point, it should have been a case of "no harm, no foul."
Instead, the adults in the room are failing this child. And that's a shame. The people at AHSAA have left common sense at the door. There's simply nothing right or smart about this. When a mistake can be fixed, it should be. When someone did nothing wrong, they shouldn't be punished. If this was your child or mine, we'd be livid. Steve Savarese made the initial ruling and seems at peace with it. The ruling was appealed to various other levels of AHSAA and denied. The people making those rulings also seem to be at peace with this injustice. Indeed, they even doubled down on their decision today, as the AHSAA's Central Board of Control issued a lengthy statement defending the decision. They seemed to blame her mother, USA Basketball, her high school for not trying to change the rule previously -- basically everyone but themselves. They stuck with their maddening "rules are rules" approach.
The AHSAA has the power to fix this, and they've chosen not to. They have the power to have compassion, and they've chosen not to.
People make mistakes. It's how we handle those mistakes that really matters. The AHSAA could have simply ruled that no payment occurred once it was paid back. They could have found a way. Again, they've chosen not to. Everyone else, from USA Basketball to Maori's mom, tried to do what was best for Maori -- to fix an error that was not of her making. It's amazing to me that the AHSAA power brokers can't see this for what it is, and have instead decided to double down on a bad decision. They'd rather be right, than do right by a teenager.