Long snapper Jake Olson, legally blind, is heading to USC this fall – but he is still waiting for the NCAA to clear his participation on the football team. Olson played football at Orange Lutheran High School in Southern California, and USC accepted him. He had planned to play with the Trojans to the amazement of College Football betting odds fans, but NCAA rules are keeping him from joining.
The problem doesn’t have anything to do with his vision, though. It has to do with the fact that he is attending USC on a Swim With Mike scholarship, a program that helps athletes who face physical challenges. The NCAA views Olson as a scholarship athlete – and is counting him as one of the 85 available scholarship spots that the Trojans have on their roster. Here’s how the NCAA rules work. FBS schools can only offer 25 initial counters – which are transfers and incoming freshmen – as part of its 85 scholarships. USC had already brought in 25 initial counters, which is why the NCAA is not allowing Olson to play with the team as of yet.
USC has applied for a waiver that would allow Olson to play with the team. In an interview with the Orange County Register, Olson’s father Brian said, “We’re putting faith in the process that there’s a positive outcome for Jake. We’ll take it as it comes.” Olson suffered from a rare form of cancer as a child, losing his eyesight in the process. He grew up as a huge fan of USC, and he developed a connection with former Trojan coach Pete Carroll and the team when Olson was 12. Since then, he had dreamt of becoming a Trojan.
It’s a shame that the NCAA can’t find its way to do the right thing yet with Olson. This is yet another example of a time when the NCAA has had an opportunity to bring in some positive recognition by making a difference in the life of an athlete but instead tripping over its own red tape and making the situation an eyesore. The NCAA already has enough difficulty on its hands what with the settlement of the O’Bannon case and the ongoing differences between the way it handled such cases as, say, the Miami football scandal and the situation in the wake of the Penn State scandal.
Unless the NCAA can figure out a better way to manage sports, there is the risk that colleges will break away and form their own association. As the Power 5 conferences get more and more influence, there is less reason for them to chafe under the umbrella of the NCAA any longer. The recent attempt by football players at Northwestern University to form their own union was foiled by the courts, but public opinion is turning more and more toward giving athletes their due as far as contributors to the financial health of their universities.
The NCAA might have pushed the tide back by pressuring some universities from selling jerseys with numbers of recognizable players, but the momentum is moving away from the amateur athletics movement, especially among the big schools. With its Barney Fife approach to cases like Olson’s, the association makes itself more and more irrelevant each year.
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