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Desmond Harrison Caught in BYU/Texas Squabble

When the NCAA’s academic eligibility rules are criticized, the central point is often that one school should not be deciding or restricting the academic policies or decisions of another. Most of the time this is in a general sense, about who can practice or be on the field. But in the case of Desmond Harrison, a junior college transfer to Texas, BYU appeared to literally have the power to decide if he was eligible.

To complete his 2–4 transfer requirements, Harrison took a course through BYU’s online Independent Study program. The high school version of the program was more famous (or infamous) as a quick fix for the eligibility issues of high school prospects trying to make it through the NCAA Eligibility Center. But college level courses are offered as well.

2–4 transfers have different requirements if they are qualifiers or nonqualifiers. A qualifier simply has to pass an average of 12 credits each term they are enrolled full-time at the junior college. A nonqualifier has a much longer list to check off:

  • Attend the junior college for at least three semesters;
  • Graduate from the junior college;
  • Have at least 48 transferable hours; and
  • Have at least six hours of transferable English credit and three hours of transferable math credit (plus three hours of science credit for athletes who started college Fall 2012 or later).

It sounds like the course Harrison took through BYU was to fulfill his graduation requirement, rather than transferrable credit requirements, especially given this sentence:

Texas had considered the issue a matter between BYU and Contra Costa College, but the likely next step will be appealing to the NCAA.

On top of that, Max Olson’s report says that Contra Costa College will not revoke the degree Harrison earned due to California law. There is no talk about whether it makes a difference if the junior college simply does not accept the credit.

More here is at stake than simply whether Harrison will play for Texas this year, especially against BYU on September 7. 2–4 nonqualifier transfers must meet the transfer requirements in order to practice and received an athletic scholarship on top of whether they can compete. With his eligibility still unresolved, Harrison is likely returning to practice based on Bylaw, which gives athletes a temporary 45-day practice window prior to being certified by the school as meeting the 2–4 transfer requirements.

Any sort of waiver request by Texas would require the NCAA to wade into the academic policies of member (and nonmember) institutions. This is an area the NCAA has been reluctant to get involved outside of eligibility requirements for athletes. But beyond the claim that other non-BYU athletes have used the online courses for eligibility purposes, the policy itself may require NCAA scrutiny. The question may come down to whether BYU can open a course to the world, but restrict the athletes who take the course to only BYU students.

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