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Eligibility: C-USA Misses The Bigger Picture

Charles Carmouche is the latest example of an eligibility system gone haywire.
Charles Carmouche is the latest example of an eligibility system gone haywire.

Everyone knows that the NCAA, on the whole, has a pretty poor reputation when it comes to enforcing the letter of the law versus the intent of the law. They suspend over minute details and ignore fairly significant oversights of administration at other institutions.

One of those areas now seems to include their process of review whenever players request additional years of eligibility (for a variety of reasons, but usually due to injury like Houston's Case Keenum). The past two months in college basketball have many, including myself, wondering what exactly the NCAA's "process" is, beyond throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stays behind.

Three schools tell our tale: Memphis, Minnesota, and Notre Dame...

Back in the fall of 2007, Trevor Mbakwe began his collegiate basketball career at Marquette University. The 6'8" talented forward played part of a season before spraining his fibular collateral ligament (LCL). In order to keep playing, he transferred to Miami-Dade Community College for the '08-'09 season and then to Minnesota where he sat out the '09-'10 season. He spent his first full collegiate season as a Gopher under Tubby Smith averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game while shooting a very solid 58% from the field, and had continued those strong numbers last season before blowing his ACL seven games in (in the opposite knee, for better or worse).

This is significant because in mid-April, the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility. This is also significant because his return takes Minnesota from a middling Big Ten squad to a Top-25 team with bonafide tournament aspirations - and because of Tim Abromaitis.

Abromaitis, unlike Mbakwe, played his entire collegiate career with the Fighting Irish. In his sophomore year, Irish coach Mike Brey allowed Tim to play in the team's two exhibition games and then sat him the remainder of the season to preserve a year of eligibility - only to find out that rule only applies to freshmen. The NCAA took their sweet time with this one and Abromaitis wound up missing the first four games of this past season. Abromaitis came back for two solid games and then blew out his ACL in practice (about four days before Mbakwe went down) and missed the remainder of the season.

This is significant because in early May, the NCAA denied him a sixth year of eligibility. This is also significant because his absence takes Notre Dame from a Top-25 team with bonafide tournament aspirations to a somewhat middling Big East squad - and because of Charles Carmouche.

Carmouche played his first two collegiate seasons at the University of New Orleans, then was offered the opportunity to transfer to Memphis and play immediately when UNO dropped down from Division I. He averaged seven points per game for the Tigers two seasons ago, and was on a similar role-playing clip last season until something very interesting unfolded.

On the team's trip to the Maui Invitational, Carmouche got a massage at the hotel and charged it to his room. He refused to pay for it personally, and it became an NCAA violation that he was suspended four games for. He then sat out three games before returning for three more, only to sit with what was diagnosed as knee tendinitis. Three weeks and five games later, Carmouche was medically cleared to play and given the green light by Josh Pastner to "return when he felt ready" and he chose not to return at all.

This is significant because Charles Carmouche was granted a fifth year of eligibility by Conference USA this week. Apparently (just like Mbakwe and Abromaitis) because his injury was from last season, Carmouche's appeal goes to the conference offices first, and only then goes to the NCAA if the conference denies the appeal. The Big Ten and Big East said no to both of their requests, while Conference USA said "OK" to another year of eligibility for Carmouche.

There are two ideas at play here - the side issue of two similar players (Mbakwe and Abromaitis) getting different results for similar appeals, but more importantly is what Conference USA is saying with this ruling. This is a player who technically qualified for a medical redshirt because he played in less than 30% of his team's games from an injury - but it was an inury that healed enough for him to be cleared to play, and he chose not to return to the court.

Now Carmouche gets to transfer for a second time and play right away for a second time (because he graduated with his degree) - this feels a bit like the Nets and Vince Carter or Derek "Operation Shutdown" Bell to me, but I suppose that's mostly speculative on my part.

More importantly, what does this say for future players in the conference?