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It’s time to reinstate Maori Davenport

It’s time for the Alabama High School Athletic Association to reinstate Maori Davenport’s eligibility.

Not because of the mounting, overwhelming amount of pressure in the national media over recent days, ranging from Good Morning America to ESPN to the Twitter feeds of the likes of Chris Paul and Billy Jean King.

Not because of pressure from state legislators, including the House Republican Caucus which unanimously passed a resolution calling on the AHSAA to reinstate her. Nor is it due to the legislation being drafted to give lawmakers oversight of the organization.

It’s time to reinstate Maori Davenport because it’s the right thing to do.

In August 2018, Davenport received a check from USA Basketball for her time competing with the Under-18 team over the summer in Mexico City.

On November 27, Davenport was notified by USA Basketball that the check had been sent in error. According to Troy Mayor Jason Reeves, the Davenports sent a check for the same amount back to USA Basketball within 48 hours of the conversation – plus an additional $40 to expedite the process.

To be clear: Davenport did break an AHSAA rule. The AHSAA Amateur Rule states in part “A student cannot accept payment for loss of time or wages while participating in athletics as part of expenses . . . A student who has lost his/her amateur standing may be reinstated after the lapse of one high school season for the sport in which he/she has become professional . . .”

The $857.20 check Davenport received from USA Basketball was “payment for loss of time or wages while participating in athletics as part of expenses.” And Davenport did accept – after a phone conversation with an official of USA Basketball in which she was told the check was not received in error and that it would not affect her eligibility.

We understand AHSAA Director Steve Savarese’s position that his job is to enforce the rule and that nobody is above the rule. We absolutely do not think Maori Davenport should receive any special treatment simply because of her status as one of the best girls’ basketball players in the state and the nation.

However, we disagree that Savarese should default solely to the rulebook on this case. By all reports, Maori Davenport did not act intentionally to deceive the ASHAA, but simply took at its word a national organization responsible for interpreting and following rules. USA Basketball has accepted all responsibility in this case, and appealed on behalf of the Davenports to the ASHAA. Moreover, as soon as the Davenports discovered the error, they acted swiftly and in good faith to correct it.

Johnny Hardin, AHSAA Board of Control President, released a statement Monday defending Savarese and the AHSAA decision.

“Steve Savarese, as AHSAA Executive Director, made the eligibility ruling based upon the plain language of the Amateur Rule,” Hardin wrote. “As Executive Director, Mr. Savarese does not have the authority to change a rule. Rather, as Executive Director, his job is to apply the rules as written … To be clear, this ruling was affirmed by the Central Board of Control and as Executive Director, Mr. Savarese does not have the authority to change or reverse a ruling made by the Central Board.”

However, Savarese confirmed in an interview with ESPN’s Jay Bilas that the ultimate authority on the ruling lay with him.

Bilas writes, “ … I asked about the decision-making process, and Savarese replied that whenever he is notified of a violation, he works with the school to apply punishment. I asked exactly who makes the decision on an eligibility case. He replied, ‘I do.’ I asked if it was his sole discretion. He said, ‘Yes. I decide all such cases. I am the absolute authority in these cases.’”

The key word in this exchange is “discretion.” According to Webster’s Dictionary, discretion is defined as “… that discernment which enables a person to judge critically of what is correct and proper, united with caution.” A secondary description adds “Liberty or power of acting without other control than one’s own judgment.”

In other words, discretion is the freedom and power of one’s own judgment to decide critically of what is correct and proper – some might say what is fair and just.

Discretion is not tethered by rule or regulation – it is informed by them. Rules exist to set a standard to follow. But leaders exist to consider each case individually on its own merits, using their discretion to determine the proper course of action.

And in the case of Maori Davenport’s eligibility during her senior year, that discretion should include weighing her intent; her culpability; and the full scope of the situation.

At the end of the day, it was not the rulebook that made the determination on whether Davenport should be declared ineligible. It was Savarese. And when CHHS officials appealed that decision, it was the AHSAA District 2 Board and the AHSAA Central Board of Control that failed to use discretion to bring this case to its proper outcome.

 

We’re calling on them now to make it right before it’s too late.