For the second time in less than a month, Oklahoma City Thunder fan Cameron Rodriguez has a reason to celebrate.
First came the miracle. Rodriguez, a 6'6" forward at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan., drilled a half-court shot during the Thunder's home game with the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 18.
Besides the obvious excitement that comes from a jam-packed professional sports arena erupting, he also got the added bonus of a cool $20,000 payout for his long-range heave.
But that payment was in jeopardy nearly the moment his shot tickled the twine. As an amateur athlete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, he was at risk of losing his eligibility if he accepted the money.
The problem, according to the NAIA guidelines, was that this miracle shot involved Rodriguez's sport of focus. Had he kicked a field goal or won a golf driving contest, then the money would have been his to keep.
But the basketball gods, and more importantly the NAIA governing body, have now ruled in his favor.
The Associated Press shared all of the pertinent details of the ruling (via ESPN.com):
The NAIA said Tuesday that Rodriguez could use the half-court winnings as scholarship money.
"We're pleased with the decision from the membership and specifically the [national eligibility committee] that allows Cameron to keep his winnings to use toward his education," said Jim Carr, NAIA president and CEO.
The NAIA said the decision to use the prize as scholarship money was a joint recommendation by Rodriguez and the Southwestern College athletic department, which was supported by the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
What helped Rodriguez's cause? Well, partly the fact that he realized the potential rules violation and initiated the review process himself. That and a little bit of compassion from the NAIA helped Rodriguez better handle his tuition costs.
"We are proud of our student-athlete for doing the right thing in contacting his coach before he did anything,” Southwestern President Dick Merriman said, via Bloomberg News' Eben Novy-Williams. “We are also proud of the NAIA for doing the right thing in their ruling."
It's hard not to feel that same level of jubilation. Rodriguez might be good enough to play college hoops, but it's not like there are a lot of masters of the half-court heave walking around.
Not to mention the fact that it feels like it's been a long time since there's been an uplifting story in the never-ending struggle of amateurism and economic gains. Maybe this is a hope for the future, as Yahoo! Sports' Eric Freeman noted, "It's a nice reminder that, in a world where NCAA violations sometimes seem arbitrary, a governing body and the athletes it oversees can find common ground."
Hopefully Rodriguez can savor this moment, just as he had when that miracle shot found its mark.
Frankly, the rest of us don't have time to enjoy it for him. We'll be too busy shopping for Oklahoma City jerseys, watering our ticket oaks to get inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and perfecting our half-court flings.
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