Athletics struggles to keep best players eligible

It’s hard to win games at the collegiate level when your best players are out of the lineup.

It’s especially hard to win, though, when your best players are out of the lineup, not due to injury, but because they get deemed ineligible to play.

FIU athletics has endured tough times this year when trying to place its best players on the field or on the court.

Richard Leonard, FIU’s best cornerback and return man, was ruled ineligible this year because of academic issues. Leonard’s loss was detrimental to a team who already lost 30 seniors due to graduation and a handful of other players due to legal situations.

Leonard returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns last season, and averaged 29.5 yards per kickoff return. Throughout spring and fall practices, he FIU’s most consistent and impressive defensive player.

“Of course, it’s a big loss,” senior cornerback Sam Miller said to the Miami Herald of Leonard’s ineligibility. “But we have other guys who can step up, who can fill that role. We don’t depend on one guy. It’s a team out here to accomplish a goal. Young guys … they got their first game out of the way, and I feel like they’re going to bounce back and have a really good game this week.”

The football team, now at 1-10, could have definitely used Leonard’s skills during their down season. Leonard’s replacements have averaged 19.3 yards per kickoff return, a significant drop off from his 29.5 yards per return last year. Leonard’s kickoff return for a touchdown last season went for 100 yards.

Leonard’s replacements in punt returns have averaged 9.6 yards per return and have not returned a punt for a score this season. Last year, Leonard averaged 14.2 yards per return and scored on a 42 yard punt return, the only punt return for a score by the team.

Leonard’s presence on the football field could have been huge for this squad. They could have used his talent and skill, but because he was not kept in check and his academics didn’t clear up he was ruled ineligible and the team suffered as any team would when its best players cannot play.

Raymond Taylor pulled from play

The wrath of ineligibility has not been limited to just the football team, though, the men’s basketball team has experienced it as well. Senior guard Raymond Taylor was recently pulled from play because of after the 2011-12 season, Taylor, then at FAU, declared he would enter the NBA Draft in March. According to that year’s NCAA Manual, he had until April 10, 2012, the first day of the spring signing period, to withdraw. The NBA included Taylor when it released the 2012 draft’s early entry list on May 3, 2012. Taylor was the only college player listed as having withdrawn on June 20, 2012.

Taylor, a key piece on a team that started 6-2, is averaging 12.2 points per game, good for third on the team, and leads the squad in assists at 6.2 assists per game.

The loss of Taylor, if he is ruled ineligible, could force the Panthers to vacate the wins they have recorded with Taylor playing. If this were to happen, it would be adding insult to injury for a team that is succeeding during a season in which they have no postseason hopes because of low APR scores.

Facing ineligibility, Davydova has yet to suit up for Panthers

Yes, the ineligibility bug has even poked its ugly head out on the women’s basketball team.

Senior Marita Davydova, FIU’s second best player, has yet to play in a game this year despite being completely healthy.

Davydova hasn’t dressed for any games this season, was left behind for FIU’s three road games and clearly isn’t injured.

After missing the season opener, FIU coach Cindy Russo said it was “coach’s decision,” why the center didn’t play.

Now, for some reason I find it hard to believe that a coach will choose to sit their second best player, unless of course, that player was facing some sort of ineligibility issues.

Clearing players’ eligibility falls under the Compliance Department, which doesn’t fall under the Athletic Department.

FIU recently fired Val Sheley, the director of compliance since 2010. Two key positions in compliance, director and assistant director in charge of Academic Progress Rates, now sit open.

As of Nov. 27, the football team is 1-10, the women’s basketball team is 0-4 and the men’s basketball team, if Taylor is ruled ineligible and have to vacate wins would stand at 1-7.

A combined record of 2-21 is indicative of what teams endure when their best players are not on the field or the court, and in FIU’s case, their players are fighting eligibility cases just as much as their teams are losing.


About the Author

Ruben Palacios
is the Assistant News Director of FIU student media, a sports junkie and a sneaker enthusiast. Not necessarily in that order. Loves the L.A. Lakers and Oakland Raiders. In that order.

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