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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rider's Lopez looking for resolution to eligibility saga

Rider's Matt Lopez has been denied a waiver twice by the NCAA.


Matt Lopez just wants to play.

The NCAA won’t let that happen.

Lopez, a 7-foot center at Rider, transferred from Utah State in the summer to be closer to his ailing grandfather, but the NCAA denied his initial request for a waiver and then turned down an appeal last month.

“I came home to be with (grandparents) and not be on the other side of the country these last couple years,” Lopez said in a phone interview. “The NCAA won’t recognize them as my immediate family. I lost my mom when I was younger and I don’t have any relationship with my father.”

Rider associate director for athletics and compliance Greg Busch had a clarification call last week with the NCAA.

Busch said the key issue is the NCAA doesn’t recognize Lopez’s grandparents, Robert and Jane Rafa, as immediate family although he’s lived with them for a number of years.

Robert Rafa is suffering from a complex heart disease, according to a letter from the University of Pennsylvania Health Systems that the school provided to the NCAA.

“You have to do two things,” Busch said. “You have to establish the immediate family member, and then secondly, you have to answer the question: Is there a medical situation here and has it worsened to the point where he has to come home and take care of the family member? We thought, if anything, that there would be an issue with question No. 2, proving the medical situation. (We) didn’t think there would be an issue proving the grandparents are immediate family members.”

Busch said the discussion with the NCAA didn’t get past the point of Lopez’s grandparents being immediate family members.

Lopez moved in with his grandparents three years ago but said they have been his primary care givers for longer than that. His mother passed away a decade ago.

“I understand their stance on this and they don’t necessarily give you details of other cases, but when you say, ‘Hey, it seems that there are a couple other cases going through here with grandparents, can we take another look at ours? Has everyone else really lived with the grandparents their entire life? You just want to point that out and have them maybe say, ‘OK, lets take another look at yours. Maybe we were a little harsh on you,’” Busch said.

The NCAA usually grants a legislative relief appeal — the technical term for what is more commonly known as a hardship waiver — for players transferring closer to home to be with an ailing family member. There have been other cases involving grandparents where players have been granted waivers.

Rutgers’ J.J. Moore was cleared to play this season so he could be nearer his daughter and grandfather. Lamont Jones received a waiver at Iona two seasons ago to be near a sick grandmother.

“I want the NCAA to be specific in terms of a ruling,” second-year head coach Kevin Baggett said. “If a kid transfers or if someone is sick, be specific. Give us a specific ruling. If they have to sit, then so be it, that’s fine. I don’t think it needs to be a case by case because I just think it’s not fair because there are circumstances that can be approved for anyone.”

Lopez is in his junior year and has one year of eligibility remaining.

After starring at Washington Township High School, he began his collegiate career at La Salle, appearing in only nine games as a redshirt freshman before moving on to Utah State.

He played in 23 games at Utah State, averaging 2.3 points. Lopez said the coaching staff at Utah State gave him its blessing to play elsewhere.

“I think it’s really frustrating because not only have I had this going on, the coaches at Utah State were aware of what was going on,” he said. “We have a letter from them kind of giving the blessing, saying this is exactly why the waiver process is here, for guys that are in my situation. It just kind of stinks because the NCAA won’t recognize that my grandparents are my immediate family.”

Busch backed that up, saying Utah State had no objection to the waiver being granted.

“That’s one of the big things the NCAA looks for,” Busch said, “if the previous school objects to the waiver and they were for it wholeheartedly.”

Lopez hopes getting the word out will help in his quest to become eligible.

Busch said the school is out of appeals. Schools get two shots at it — an initial waiver the NCAA staff awards and an appeal heard by a subcommittee of administrators and people from other universities — and in Rider’s case both were denied.

“I don’t think it’s a lost cause,” Lopez said. “As long as there’s a small chance, I’ll take it. We’re just kind of hoping that getting all this information out there will give us another chance, I guess, and get things moving in the right direction.”

At the end of the day, Lopez wants to be on the court with his new teammates.

“I just want to play,” he said. ”During my whole career, I’ve always been in like a bad situation. I’m going to be in school for five years, and so far I’ve played like half a season. When it’s all said and done, I just want to be able to play a little bit more.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any idea why Princeton-Lafayette game wasn't on WPRB last night?

November 21, 2013 at 10:04 AM 

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