The longer the wait for Jeremiah Masoli’s waiver to be cleared by the NCAA, the more the black helicopter conspiracy theorists sounded a little less crazy.
In what was considered by many to be just a formality of approval, the NCAA this afternoon instead denied the residency waiver that would have allowed Masoli to suit up and play for the Ole Miss Rebels this season.
Ole Miss will appeal the decision and will have no longer than one week after filing before hearing the result, but no one expects the NCAA Subcommittee that handles the appeal to overturn its big brother’s ruling.
The denial has immediate ripple effects for the Ole Miss Football Program and, most of all, for Jeremiah Masoli. It also opens a Pandora’s Box of questions that the NCAA will—though only if the national media chooses to pursue—need to have some straight answers for.
It is also not out of reach to assume that even if the NCAA comes clean on the decision making process, the organization may well find itself defending a pretty hefty lawsuit.
The grounds on which the NCAA denied the waiver will be important to hear, especially as to whether they were subjective in nature or if they de facto instituted a policy change not currently on the books.
The whole of college athletics—schools, coaches, players and fans—should pay close attention to how the NCAA explains its decision. If the NCAA's reasoning is anything less than legally constructed and universally applicable, everyone should recognize that the NCAA has just divested itself of its core tenet of governance.
In other words, if the decision to deny Masoli the ability to play football at Ole Miss this year is a move towards the NCAA making moral judgments or stands, the NCAA will just as immediately lose all credibility to do so.
Objectivity of approach and application is the tie that binds member institutions to the NCAA. If the NCAA is unable to prove itself on both of those counts—and it is their burden of proof—the long held belief by the average college fan that the NCAA does play favorites and protects its pocketbooks first will have their first full pound of verifiable flesh.
While the immediate concerns on the denial will—and should—focus on the reshuffling of plans by both Masoli and the Ole Miss Football Team, it would be wise for fans to recognize the larger elements in play.
The NCAA established a new precedent today which governs all athletes, and it did so without transparency or process with its members.
That is a dangerous idea.
Masoli will certainly wait out the appeal process in hopes that—somehow—the subcommittee finds the decision flawed. If the appeal is denied, there should be little expectation that Masoli would stick around Oxford this year in hopes of playing next.
No entity in this story is untainted, but it is still tough to watch how this has now played out for Masoli and not feel remorse. He came to Oxford in a firestorm and immediately set about winning over his teammates and coaches with his efforts on the practice field and his commitment elsewhere.
If he had screwed up somewhere along the way, been unappreciative, or carried himself with any affront, then at least people could sit back and chatter about how he failed to do exactly what he promised to do.
But that is not the case. He did do everything right; he was making the most of his chance. That is what is tough to understand about his waiver—which has been granted by the NCAA on numerous occasions—being denied.
For the Rebel Football Team and those who support it, the air feels like it has been let out of the balloon. The optimism that grew since Masoli’s arrival is now being reevaluated. The question that everyone involved—players, coaches and fans—now need to ask themselves is whether or not that growing expectation is solely due to Masoli.
The quarterback position was a huge question mark entering Fall, but not only did it subside as camp progressed, most people around the program became confident in what they were seeing not only from Masoli, but from expected starter Nathan Stanley and JUCO signee Randall Mackey.
How are those performances revised by not having Masoli on the roster?
Masoli brought experience to the position that neither Stanley nor Mackey have; most people felt that would be an intangible that could increase the number of expected wins for what began as a rebuilding year, but started to feel less so.
Sans Masoli, does everyone drop Ole Miss back to the bottom of the SEC West?
Is the aftershock of the decision such that players who believed in what they could accomplish a week no longer do so?
Those questions have no simple reply and will only be answered by what the team does on Saturdays for the next few months. They will have their chance to prove their detractors right or wrong.
Unfortunately, for the Ole Miss Football Program, Jeremiah Masoli will not.
Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. He welcomes and appreciates all comments. Click here to view his other articles.