Friday, July 30, 2010

Northern Illinois won't allow Sean Kowal to pursue a graduate degree in Theology

Sean Kowal is an example of what is right in college athletics.

The 6'11" big man originally enrolled at Colorado, but after seeing limited minutes in his one season with the Buffaloes, he transferred to Northern Illinois. After redshirting the required one season, Kowal became a very effective part-time starter for the Huskies, averaging 10 ppg and 6 rpg the last two seasons.

But Kowal is also a good enough student that he was able to earn his undergraduate degree in four years. Coming to the realization that he likely won't be playing for pay once he collegiate career comes to an end, Kowal is looking to attend graduate school for Theology.

"After I realized I was going to graduate," Kowal told KSDK in St. Louis, "I've kind of thought about life after basketball. I'm not going to sacrifice my education for basketball."

The NCAA has a rule in place that allows a player to transfer to another institution for graduate school and skip the required redshirt season as long as the program he is taking isn't offered at his current school. Northern Illinois doesn't offer Theology, so one would think that Kowal would currently be looking for a school with the right Theology program.

Except there's one problem -- NIU won't release him from his scholarship:

Now here is what I don't understand.

In an idealistic world, the reason for athletic scholarships is that kids with superb talents in a certain sport can capitalize on that talent and receive a very expensive education for free. Kowal did just that. He's a "student-athlete" by every definition of the word.

And now he wants to be able to use his talent to further his education, to help him earn a graduate degree is Theology. But since the NCAA allows NIU to "handcuff" Kowal, he is either going to have to change the course of his studies and take a graduate program offered at NIU, or he is going to have to pay out of pocket for his education.

Student loans are miserable to pay back. Kowal has an opportunity to avoid those loans and that debt and still pursue the education and the career that he wants.

NIU wont give him that opportunity.

Which is ridiculous.

NIU won't grant Sean Kowal a release.
(photo credit:

Now, I don't the exact details of the relationship between Kowal and NIU's head coach Ricardo Patton, but he says in the interview has had no issues with the coach or the athletics department. Which makes me wonder -- what does Patton really care about here?

Does he truly care about Patton's education? Does he want his players to pursue a fulfilling career path? Or does he see a 6'11" center that averages double figures -- those don't exactly come around too often, especially at the mid-major level -- getting ready to walk and figure that his team, and by extension his coaching ability, would be that much better with Kowal on the roster?

If Patton really cared about his players, he would be applauding Kowal. We all should be applauding Kowal. Being a college basketball player and a student is not easy. Unline baseball and football, basketball season extends through both semesters, meaning that for at least half of every class a basketball player takes in college, he is going to be dealing with road trips, practices, film sessions, weight room sessions, etc., all while handling the same course load as the kids that have to budget their time between smoking weed, getting drunk, and banging out a paper or problem set.

People bitch and they moan about the issues with one-and-done players, and how poorly Kentucky did in the class room this year, and the APR. How many times have you heard someone make some remark about how college basketball players aren't "student"-athletes?

Well, here we have a real, live, honest-to-god student-athlete. Here we have a kid that graduated from school on time, and is looking to further educate himself. Instead of rewarding that, instead of helping him, the NCAA allows rules to be in place that can feasibly make it impossible for Kowal to receive an athletic scholarship to pursue the degree he wants to pursue.

And you wonder why people think the NCAA is a farce.

If Patton had any class or any sense, he would release Kowal from his scholarship. If Kowal wants to move on with his life, if he wants to attend school elsewhere, and if there are NCAA rules in place that would allow him to receive a graduate degree for free, than Patton should allow him to leave.

Because the only person getting hurt here is the student-athlete.

Do the right thing, coach. Let Sean go.


MK-Ultra said...

I certainly agree, with the rule in place allowing kids to transfer w/o penalty after completing their undergraduate degree, the coach and the program should definitely release him from his scholarship.

And, if the goal here is to make life better and easier for the student-athlete, the caveat in the NCAA rule that allows the coach to withhold release from the scholarship needs to be removed.

But more to the point, I just have mixed feelings about the rule in general. Sure, it is a good reward for these kids who complete their degrees early, but it is also a bit of a punch in the gut to a program that has worked with and developed the athlete part of the student-athlete to have them bail on the program to trade up to a bigger institution for their final year.

I think I'd rather the rule didn't exist at all.

Rob Dauster said...

But the point is that these guys are student-athletes. If the graduate degree that they want is offered at the school they attended for undergrad, then great. But if not, then why not reward the student-athletes that are real students?

Troy Machir said...

First, the title of your post is a bit steep, don't you think? I doubt't think NIU has a problem with him wanting to study theology.

NIU might just feel slighted by a kid who is looking to transfer for the second time in what? Three years I highly doubt this has anything to do with his choice of study.

In a nutshell, what I'm gettting at is that over the course of the summer more and more programs are trying to hold guys from transfering out.

I kinda agree. If the coaches and programs are doing the hard work to get the kids there, I can kinda understand if they'd want to do their best to keep them there.

That sheet of paper they sign is more than just a permission slip.

College players are investments. Scholarships are alot of money, and I doubt athletic programs, Mid-Major or not, like to see kids dance around with them.

But I dunno, that's just me.

MK-Ultra said...

I dunno... Seems to me like the guy is already being rewarded for being a student. He's got the degree and didn't have to pay for it, right?

I just have a harder time accepting Kowal's situation as a major hardship compared with say, Walter Pitchford and DePaul or even Eniel Polynice and Ole Miss. In Pitchford's case, he signed his LOI to a coach who then got fired. He should definitely have been released. In Polynice's case, he wasn't really wanted back at Ole Miss.

But this one, this is far different. In the middle of the summer, kid decides he wants to bail on his team for greener pastures. If making that decision is well within his rights (and it is), it is also well within the rights of Patton to think about how losing that kid is going to make it more difficult for him to accomplish the thing that he's at that university to do: you know, win basketball games.

Anonymous said...

dude, no one goes to NIU and expects to go to the league after being a fifth year senior. doesn't happen