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Orlando Sanchez should be the NCAA’s posterboy, not ineligible

Feb 26, 2013, 10:58 AM EDT

orlando-sanchez AP

Orlando Sanchez is the latest in a long line of athletes who have found themselves at the mercy of the NCAA’s archaic and, at times, inane rulebook.

Sanchez is a 24 year old native of the Dominican Republic. He spent the last two years at Monroe Community College. Prior to enrolling at MCC, Sanchez lived a tough life in the Dominican. His parents were so poor that he was sent to live with his Grandparents as a child. After his Grandfather passed away, a 17-year old Sanchez was shipped off to Spain to work as a carpenter with his estranged father to help support his Grandmother.

At 20, he returned to the Dominican and was discovered by a club coach on a local court playing pick-up basketball. He played eight games with that team, and then saw 3:38 seconds of garbage time as a member of the Dominican national team. But since the NCAA views participation on any organized team when 21 or older as costing a year of eligibility, those two teams and the two years at MCC mean that Sanchez has no more college eligibility left.

(I’d strongly recommend you read Dana O’Neil’s feature on Sanchez, as well as Lenn Robbins’ column on him.)

His career, in the NCAA’s eyes, is over.

Which is so incredibly dumb, but not because the NCAA is enforcing their rule.

Look, like it or not, the NCAA has a rule about this kind of thing, and the rule states that Sanchez cannot play. Whether or not you agree with the rule isn’t the argument here; rules are rules, and the NCAA has enough head-scratching rules that Sanchez is far from the only kid that has found himself stuck in eligibility purgatory.

But the difference with Sanchez is that he’s not in college to blaze a trail to the NBA. He’s there to get a degree. He’s there to get his free education so that he can take care of his family back in his home country. He is exactly what the NCAA claims to be about.

He’s the reason that the NCAA refuses to budge from their stance that the athletes that generate billions of dollars with their play on the field or on the court shouldn’t see a dime more than a scholarship. He’s a student-athlete in every sense of the word. If the NCAA was smart, they wouldn’t be crushing his hopes of playing major Division I basketball, they’d be putting him on a pedestal.

There should be features on the front page of the NCAA’s website about him right now. They should use their limitless resources to put together a video package of the Sanchez family’s perseverance and inundate viewers with it during the NCAA tournament. Every single time Mark Emmert — or anyone, for that matter — stands up and defends amateurism, they should be able to point to Sanchez and say, “You see him? That’s why we do things the way we do them.”

He is the posterboy for the NCAA. With all the negativity surrounding the NCAA of late — Miami, Myck Kabongo, calls for Emmert to be fired — you would think the organization could use a bit of good PR.

But they’re pissing it all away because of their need to enforce a rule that Sanchez broke for 218 seconds of garbage time basketball as he was representing his country. It wasn’t playing for a professional team, mind you. He wasn’t getting his pockets lined by agents and runners and AAU coaches.

He was playing for the Dominican national team. Garbage minutes. One game.

Regardless of how the Sanchez situation plays out, regardless of whether or not Sanchez ever sets foot on the court in Carnesecca Arena, Sanchez will be getting his degree from St. John’s. According to O’Neil’s story, he has a 3.48 GPA right now. He will be able to better his life and better the life of his family.

And in the end, that’s really all matters here.

(Image via Martin Mejia/AP)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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