An Oklahoma City Thunder fan who won $20,000 by hitting a half-court shot may have to forfeit all his winnings.
The reason: He wants to keep his NAIA eligibility.
Cameron Rodriguez sunk a half-court shot at halftime of the Thunder game on November 18, and grabbed headlines as he was the fourth Thunder fan to hit the halftime shot since March. (Two more fans have hit shots since then.) But because Rodriguez is on the basketball team at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, Rodriguez is not allowed to make money off his athletic ability, per NAIA rules.
To try and maintain his eligibility and still get the cash, Rodriguez and his school have petitioned the NAIA to allow him to only use the money for tuition, meaning the prize would act as a sort of scholarship.
From Bloomberg News:
"It would certainly hurt his cause if he had tried to circumvent the rules," [executive director of the NAIA Eligibility Center John] Leavens said in a telephone interview. "The fact that he connected with the right officials to make sure that he understood the proper application of the rule is something that we expect, and we're glad to see." [...]
Every one of Southwestern College's 1,700 students receives financial aid through institutional grants to help with the $23,000 annual tuition, according to Brenda Hicks, the school's director of financial aid. Rodriguez, who is on a $4,000 athletic scholarship, said he pays roughly $33,000 per year when he adds room, board, books and other fees.
The saddest thing about all this? If it had been in any other sport than the one he plays — say he hit a hole-in-one at a charity golf event, or won a pass-punt-kick competition — he would have been fine to accept the money and do whatever he wants with it. It's because the contest was in the sport he plays that makes it impossible for Rodriguez to take the cash.
If the NAIA rules that Rodriguez cannot use the cash towards his tuition, MidFirst Bank (the sponsoring bank of the half-court shot contest) has offered to donate the money to a charity of Rodriguez's choosing. Rodriguez is considering two charities, one set up to help his Southwestern basketball program and an Oklahoma City Thunder charity that works with at-risk youth in the area.
It's an interesting situation, and the good news is that everyone seems to be acting pretty decently about the whole thing. The NAIA appreciated Rodriguez coming forward and contacting them before getting the money, and their director of eligibility has personally promised a decision within a week or two, a process so far from the faceless, bureaucratic decision-making that NCAA fans know well. The Thunder and the bank that put on the event want to make sure the money goes where it belongs, and Rodriguez didn't try to sneak anything past anyone, and just wants to play basketball. Kudos around.
(Thanks to Ball Don't Lie for sharing.)