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High School Athletes And Associations Work To Keep Rules Fair For All

Lauren Gewirtz

But a recent controversial case in Alabama, where a basketball player was innocent but still penalized, leads to conversations about procedures.

LANSING, Mich. – In Michigan, high school athletes have some flexibility when it comes to sports-related extracurricular activities. They are allowed to participate in everything from golf tournament fundraisers to USA Basketball, but one thing is clear: they cannot receive a check or cash reward.

If they do receive one of these forms of payment, according to Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) rules, they could lose their eligibility. But there is a way for players to get their eligibility back.

“If someone received a check/lump sum to pay for expenses and everything checked out, I think we would allow eligibility as long as no other benefits were found,” said Geoff Kimmerly, the MHSAA’s media and content coordinator. “We also provide a remedy in this sort of situation – if an athlete promptly pays back whatever benefit is accidentally received, eligibility can be restored/ineligibility can be avoided.”

Since this is the case in Michigan, these situations generally do not receive national attention. But that does not mean that they do not happen to different degrees around the county.

There was recently a case in Alabama, where Maori Davenport, a senior basketball star, made news after she was deemed ineligible upon receiving a stipend from USA Basketball. She played with the U.S. national team over the summer and received a check for $857.20 to cover costs.

Her mother cashed the check a few days after receiving it, but when they learned she could lose her eligibility, the money was later returned, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball compensates players to make up for any wage loss for playing for the team, such as not being able to have a summer job. However, USA Basketball usually checks with the high school associations to make sure the payment is legal.

USA Basketball admitted they failed to check with the Alabama High School Athletic Association, sent the check, and then the group ruled Davenport ineligible to play during her senior season. A national outcry, a Davenport family trip to the Alabama legislature, and a mea culpa by USA Basketball eventually led to the restoration of her eligibility.

It was an ugly situation, with an innocent high school student caught in the middle.

Mark Uyl, the MHSAA’s Executive Director,  said that while these eligibility cases are not common in Michigan, there have been similar issues.

“I’ve been on staff now almost 15 years and we occasionally do have violations,” said Uyl. “The rule here – it’s the amateur status rule that at its core, kids that participate in athletics at the high school level are amateurs.”

Uyl said Michigan’s high school players have been invited to similar national camps and clinics. MHSAA rules are clear that kids can accept meals while on-site or travel, they cannot accept money.

“If the kids then get some sort of a stipend where it kind of moves from being an amateur to that you’re being paid - which would move you into the professional world – that’s when a violation takes place,” said Uyl.

As far as individual situations go, Kimmerly said that each situation is looked at on a case by case basis. The association also works closely with high school athletic directors to ensure open communication.

The key MHSAA rule in these scenarios is the “in kind” statute.

“MHSAA rules allow athletes in these scenarios (that is, with national teams) to accept, in kind, travel and room & board,” said Kimmerly. “Prizes and payments and other ‘valuable consideration’ are not allowed.”

The bottom line: the case in Alabama is not something that the MHSAA is used to or expects to see in Michigan. 

“In our state, inadvertent, accidental – we have some remedies in the rule so that we can handle the situation, I think, much more fairly and much more student-friendly than maybe what happens in other places,” said Uyl. 

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