The third appeal was the charm for BYU runner Jared Ward.
A graduate student on BYU's cross country team, Ward lost a year of eligibility because of a fun-run he competed in before he enrolled in the school. While the event included people wearing costumes and was simply a warm-up for another race, the NCAA ruled Ward had gained a "competitive advantage" and stripped him of a year of eligibility.
Thinking the decision would eventually be reversed, Ward competed on the team for three years before he was forced to sit out this entire season. The school appealed the ruling twice but was denied both times.
But now, just in time for the region and national championships, the NCAA seems to have come to its senses.
Doug Robinson of the Deseret News reports that the NCAA has reversed its sanctions against Ward and is allowing him to compete with the team for the rest of the season.
A traditionally strong program already, BYU will surely be bolstered by the addition of Ward, an All-American. Ward will be allowed to join the fifth-ranked Cougars this weekend at the NCAA region championships and next weekend at the NCAA championships.
“It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am to be able to toe the line with seniors and other members of the program I’ve grown to love the last few years,” Ward (pictured below, with his son) told Robinson. “They are some of my best friends. And I’m grateful that I received so much support from the media, teammates, BYU compliance and my coach in the appeals process.”
— Isaac Wood (@isaacegbertwood) June 7, 2013
As Robinson notes, this is the third time in 11 weeks the NCAA has reinstated an athlete after public outcry. In August the NCAA reversed course on Steven Rhodes, a walk-on football player at Middle Tennessee State who had participated in a military-only recreational football league during his time in the Marines. The NCAA had initially stripped Rhodes of two years of eligibility and forced him to redshirt one season, but it changed course once Rhodes' story was picked up by national media outlets.
Earlier this month the NCAA lifted a one-year ban on Colgate freshman basketball player Nathan Harries. Harries had taken a year off between high school and college so he could complete a mission with the Mormon Church. Upon finishing the mission, Harries returned home and competed in three church league basketball games. The NCAA initially ruled that Harries would have to sit out his freshman season because of a "competitive advantage" gained from the church league games. But within a few weeks it reversed the decision.
It was the Harries decision that got BYU compliance officer Chad Gwilliam thinking he could persuade the NCAA to reopen Ward's case. Like Harries, Ward had also taken a year off to complete a mission.
"I'm just grateful the NCAA looked into the case again and reopened the appeal process and did it in such a timely fashion," Ward told Robinson. "I'm glad the NCAA made what I feel is the right decision."