NCAA technicality will keep decorated Army vet from playing college basketball
Isaiah Brock had big plans for 2016. After spending four years in the Army, the 22-year-old Baltimore native was invited to enroll at Oakland University and play on the Michigan school's basketball team.
"Yo mom," he posted to his Facebook page Sept. 9 along with a picture of himself in OU's uniform. "I made it!"
Days earlier, the university had held a forum to welcome new student-athletes to Oakland. The school's athletic director, Jeff Konya, had made sure to make special mention of Brock, who had earned a series of medals and honors during his service in Afghanistan and Kuwait.
"He received a standing ovation," Konya told the Detroit Free Press of Brock, whose basketball prowess was initially noticed in the Army's charity tournaments. "It was a very powerful scene. At a time where the country has so many issues that need to be discussed, that showed that there is something to be said for service, giving of yourself and protecting freedom."
But while the university is ecstatic to have the decorated veteran on the squad, the NCAA is less so. Because of a below-average, five-year-old high school transcript, the NCAA has deemed Brock ineligible. The NCAA's denial of Brock's eligibility comes even as Brock managed A's and B's in online college classes he took last year.
"I don't want to speak for the NCAA, but I think they put an emphasis on Isaiah Brock in 2011 and what his credentials at that time would suggest," Konya told CBS Sports. "But Isaiah Brock in 2016 is a different person. He's taken college classes and passed them with a 3.0. So if the issue is that he's not prepared academically to do college work, I'd argue the proof is in the pudding."
Part of the reason the NCAA has ruled Brock ineligible isn't even solely because of his high school grades (Brock averaged about a 2.0, according to the Detroit Free Press) but because of the state of the high school itself, CBS Sports reports.
He attended Baltimore's Forest Park High, which, according to U.S. News and World Report, scores just a six out of 100 possible points in its ability to prepare students for college-level academia. This means that even if Brock had graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, his "college readiness" could still fall short of the NCAA's freshman-eligibility requirements.
"The idea that he'd be judged from a college-readiness perspective based off of 5-year-old transcripts from a substandard high school is nonsensical," CBS Sports' Gary Parrish opined Wednesday.
"[Brock] never even thought about getting eligible out of high school," Oakland Coach Greg Kampe told CBS Sports. "He was always just going to join the Army."
And Brock flourished as a soldier in the 54th Quartermaster Mortuary Affairs Company, an assignment he recalls proudly.
"When a solider dies on the battlefield, we'll go retrieve them, and they'll come to us," Brock told the Free Press. "We'll process their remains, search through their belongings, search through their body, annotate all their wounds and everything that happened. You see all the ramp ceremonies with the flag draped over their body? That's what we do, then we send them home."
For his service, he won the Army Commendation Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Medal, an Army Service Ribbon and a Certificate of Achievement, but still those awards, along with a qualifying standardized test score, have not persuaded the NCAA to look past the high school transcript.
As it stands, Brock, who remains eligible for an OU scholarship, won't be able to play on the team until next year.
"They're holding him out for an academic year of preparedness," Konya told the Free Press. "In my limited scope of understanding, he's proven he can do college work. So that rationale doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."
So, OU said, it will appeal the ruling in the hopes that the NCAA, which as a policy does not publicly comment on individual cases, will apply for a waiver to allow the 6-foot-8 forward to play this season. The school hopes to settle the case by early November.
"Isaiah went and fought so that organizations like the NCAA can exist, and he did so in a way that he's now a decorated military veteran," Konya told CBS Sports. "It's a great story. And hopefully it has a happy ending. Hopefully common sense wins the day."