On Wednesday, Baylor fans were caught dead in their tracks when they heard of junior RB Silas Nacita’s dismissal from the team. No one expected to hear of such a beloved player being taken off the roster, especially knowing his story, reported by Sports Illustrated, as a homeless and couch surfing young adult. He’s a genuinely great young man who everyone in the organization respects and admires. But, it’s that void in his life that has forced him off the team (at least at the moment.)
There was great confusion as to what was really happening (and still is), with tweets abound changing the story on a dime. First, it was reported that the NCAA deemed Nacita ineligible. Then there was an uproar from fans and players, and the NCAA stated that they did not have a hand in his dismissal and Baylor had not filed a waiver (referring to the Student Assistance Fund – SAF.) It seemed Nacita was dismissed because he was receiving benefits while being associated with the football program, which took a while to surface.
Nacita sent a series of tweets about the matter, first saying a “close-family friend” gave him an apartment so he would have a place to live. How is that much different than if he were to have parents able to afford paying for his living situation? A few tweets later, and Nacita clarified the person donating an apartment for him was more an evolved acquaintance from his hometown of Bakersfield, California.
The bottom line is that I broke the rules. I should’ve never accepted the help and I am deeply sorry for my actions pic.twitter.com/Ekw0e4uSbQ
— Silas Nacita (@Salsa_Nacho) February 26, 2015
Baylor advised Nacita not to accept the housing, but when you’re living day-to-day without any certainty, the idea of a place of your own is too tempting to resist. Nacita graciously accepted the aid and is now missing Baylor’s spring practices. It was all internally handled by Baylor, but the NCAA’s hands were already in the situation because of their set of rules that pushed Baylor into a wall.
But, as noted by Yahoo! Sports‘ Graham Watson, it would have to be someone with ties to the university giving him a place to stay to be deemed inelligible.
If not for the NCAA’s regulations of student-athletes aid, Nacita would be living in his apartment and practicing with the rest of his teammates in Baylor’s indoor facilities. There’s something wrong with these regulations. There’s a stirring debate whether student-athletes should be paid; I’m not going to discuss that. That’s for another time. But there should be a middle line drawn for players like Nacita.
Nacita is not on an athletic scholarship. He’s a walk-on unlike Boise St. DE Antoine Turner, who received a SAF waiver from the NCAA after his athletic scholarship (what separates the two) wasn’t going to cover living costs last year. Nacita is on academic scholarship and financial aid from Baylor, but that doesn’t go towards living costs. Whether or not Nacita is eligible for the SAF (which has over $70 million in funds according to a 2013 report) is unclear, only adding to the confusion.
In Turner’s situation, college football fans not attached to Boise wanted to start an online fund to support him so he could move on from sleeping on park benches and in cars. But that would compromise his status as an amateur athlete according to the NCAA. This is essentially what has happened to Nacita. Someone not attached to the school aside from his relation to Nacita himself helped out, and a line could be drawn from Nacita to Michael Oher’s rags-to-riches story of being given a home and family in high school, which ultimately set him up for a college (and professional) career.
The regulations held by the NCAA are to keep consistency throughout each program, but this storm of confusion has certainly brought to attention that there should be change. It’s understandable that they do not want star athletes to receive perks other students may not get (e.g. Johnny Manziel’s autography investigation, Ohio St. players’ tattoos, etc.). But when you’re talking about someone’s livelihood and making him decide between scraping by or living without extra baggage and a greater opportunity to focus on school, something extra needs to be done.
It’s not as if the NCAA has something against those without money to fend for themselves, but their set of rules make it difficult for players like Nacita and their respective institutions to move forward. ESPN correspondent David Smoak has said there were options presented to Nacita that he may have declined, but that only adds another hole to this already sinking boat. What those other options may be is not immediately clear. If Baylor is not able to help him because their scholarships are maxed out, outside aid is not allowed, and the NCAA’s policy for the SAF are all restricted, where else can Nacita or a player in a similar situation turn?
If we’re to make anything of this case, it’s that it will be a great case-study and hopefully be a pivotal moment in college athletics. Who knows how many other players are in this situation and are living under the books right now? Or more importantly, how many past athletes haven’t been given a chance in college because they too couldn’t afford living while playing a sport at school, and how many more will there be?
There are still a lot of holes in this developing story: exactly what other options were presented to Nacita, who offered the apartment, why is it against the rules, and is there a chance of Nacita being reinstated? But as it stands, Nacita shouldn’t have to apologize for his actions. It’s the system that needs to accept more responsibility.