Medical hardship rule hurts Mavs’ Ball

Timing is everything in sports.

Unfortunately, that includes timing of injuries.

Take Casey Ball, for instance.

The 5-foot-11 sophomore from Briggsdale (Eaton High School) transferred to Colorado Mesa University from Missouri Southern to play volleyball.

She injured her left knee in the second set Friday against New Mexico Highlands. She had an MRI on Tuesday to determine the extent of the injury, believed to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and had an appointment with team doctors Wednesday afternoon to get the results. CMU coach Dave Fleming said he wasn’t expecting good news.

“Just a little goofy, a little off-balance,” was how Fleming described the way Ball landed after passing the ball, running to her position and then leaping for an attack.

That goofy landing cost Ball an entire season. It lasted all of nine matches.

She’s only a sophomore, and after surgery, she’ll have nearly an entire year to rehabilitate the knee.

But because she played in 33 percent of the Mavericks’ 27 scheduled matches, she cannot apply for a medical hardship season. NCAA rules allow for an additional year of eligibility if a student-athlete sustains a season-ending injury before playing in no more than 20 percent of scheduled contests.

In the case of CMU volleyball, that cutoff was 5.4 matches, which would have been the second match of the Holiday Inn Crossroads Classic.

That was the second weekend of the season.

Telling an athlete who is dealing with not only a season-ending injury, but facing surgery and months of painful rehabilitation that sorry, you just lost a year of competition, too, is wrong.

Is that allowing Ball a chance at the true college athletic experience?

What if Krista Ubersox would have ruptured her Achilles tendon last year in the third week of the season instead of the first?

You want to be the one to tell a woman who returned to school four years after earning her degree to pursue a graduate degree and use her final year of athletic eligibility that her career is over after nine matches?

CMU head athletic trainer Josh Fullmer pointed out a loophole in the NCAA’s “20 percent” rule. Let’s say a pitcher on the baseball team gets injured in April. He had nine starts, the same amount of matches Ball played this season.

Because baseball has a 50-game season, and he’s a pitcher instead of, say, a shortstop, he played in only 18 percent of the team’s games.

He could be eligible for a medical redshirt season. Now, the NCAA might not grant that hardship season, but he’s got a chance.

Garrett Carpenter, one of the Mavs’ starting pitchers last season who has gone the medical redshirt route, had 12 starts in the regular season, so under that scenario, he would have missed his final three starts, plus the postseason.

Carpenter had season-ending elbow surgery in 2010 after two games, and rightfully received an extra year of eligibility, although his “medical redshirt” season was also spent on the sidelines, rehabbing his elbow.

He will pitch this spring as a fifth-year senior.

Ball won’t have that chance.

Neither would a football player injured last week during the RMAC opener. Honestly, should 2 1/2 games constitute a season?

It’s time the NCAA took another look at medical hardships and made it fair for the student-athletes.

Give them at least half a season before telling them they’ve lost an entire year. Or, if a season-ending injury occurs after the first 20 percent and before the halfway point, they cannot play in the first X number of games the next season, equal to the number of contests they played before being injured.

The Mavericks will miss Ball’s hitting — she’s one of the top 15 hitters in the conference — but senior libero Megan Rush, the Mavericks’ leader on and off the court, was proud of how the team responded. CMU, which went 11-17 a year ago, is 9-2, 3-0 in the conference.

“When Casey went down, we could have reacted one of two ways,” Rush said. “It could have been, ‘This is our best outside hitter and she went down, and now we’re just gonna fold because we don’t know what to do without her,’ but we proved it right out of the gate when she wasn’t able to come back in.

“We worked as a team and realized that we’re not a good team because we have one stellar person. We’re a good team this year because we’re balanced all the way across the board.

“I think we had the best reaction we could have had with Casey going down. It’s a huge bummer. She was killing it this year.”


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