The organization that runs high school athletics in Alabama is facing public backlash after it decided in November to bar a senior from playing for the rest of the season because she temporarily accepted payment, allegedly violating her amateur status.
Maori Davenport, an 18-year-old recruit at Rutgers University, helped Team USA win a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship this past August, ESPN reports. That month, she received a check in the mail from USA Basketball for “lost wages” amounting to $857.20. She cashed the check but later discovered that it shouldn’t have been sent to her in the first place.
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USA Basketball often sends checks to its players to compensate them for time spent at tournaments, according to the outlet, but it’s supposed to confer with relevant high school organizations beforehand because many don’t allow their players to accept any kind of payment.
In Davenport’s case, the Alabama High School Athletics Association doesn’t allow players to receive more than $250, reports ESPN. USA Basketball realized the mistake, prompting Davenport’s mother, Tara, to write a check some three months later for the exact amount her daughter had received — plus $40 to make sure the right party received it within 72 hours, according to the Washington Post. Afterward, she told AHSAA what had happened.
AHSAA ruled Davenport, who attends Charles Henderson High School in Troy, ineligible for cashing the check. Another student in Illinois allegedly was in the same situation, but she wasn’t punished in the same way because she didn’t cash it, according to a statement from the AHSAA. Davenport found out the decision on Nov. 30 in her principal’s office, ESPNW reports.
A spokesperson from the AHSAA didn’t immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Davenport’s case has been unsuccessfully appealed twice since, once by its district board and once by its central board.
On Monday, the AHSAA released a statement further explaining its logic.
“A student cannot accept payment for loss of time or wages while participating in athletics as part of expenses,” it read. “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.”
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It also addressed the public’s outcry over the incident, which ranged from general basketball fans to experts in the sport.
“Comments being circulated throughout the media and social networks are asking that an exception be made to the Amateur Rule because it was not the student’s fault; the fact the money was repaid, and that the student is an exceptional athlete and will miss her senior year,” the statement continued. “However, if exceptions are made, there would no longer be a need for an Amateur Rule.”
According to the Post, reps from USA Basketball did not side with the AHSAA, telling the paper that it supported Davenport’s appeal and calling the check “a complete lack of administrative oversight on the part of USA Basketball.”
ESPN’s college basketball analyst Jay Bilas agreed.
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“Ridiculous,” he wrote on Twitter. “And, we ‘adults’ fall all over ourselves saying we’re in it for the players, and we yak incessantly about ‘athlete welfare.’ Maddening. Some common sense might help.”
For Davenport and her mother, the crux of the issue is that she’s being forced to miss out on the rest of season for an error that she didn’t make.
“The point of it is, to me, Maori did not do anything wrong,” Tara told the Post. “Why is she being punished? And they aren’t answering that … I can’t wrap my mind around it. The check was sent to her.”
Maori added: “I don’t understand why it is so hard to change it … I feel like it is an easy fix. To be honest, I don’t care whose fault it is. I just want to play again.”
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