NCAA Denies Brock Hoffman’s Family Hardship Waiver: Is the NCAA Heartless?

Under the current NCAA rules, a college athlete who transfers from a four-year college to an NCAA institution must complete one academic year of residence unless they qualify for a transfer exception or are granted a waiver. One of the most common (and controversial) waivers is known as the “Family Hardship Waiver.” Why is this waiver particularly controversial? Because many student-athletes in football and basketball request these waivers, and whether one is granted or denied can seem inconsistent.

The most recent insight into the NCAA’s process in determining who deserves a waiver is Brock Hoffman, a highly recruited offensive lineman who agreed to transfer to Virginia Tech. After agreeing to transfer to Virginia Tech, Hoffman followed proper NCAA procedures and filed for a Family Hardship Waiver, stating that the reasoning behind his transfer was to be closer to his ailing mom. Hoffman’s mother had a noncancerous brain tumor removed and still suffers from various side effects from the surgery (facial paralysis, hear loss, and eye sight issues to name a few).

The NCAA ultimately denied Brock Hoffman’s waiver request and he exhausted his options for appeal last week, so he will officially be sitting out for the 2019-2020 season.

It is easy to sympathize with Hoffman’s situation, and many people are furious about the NCAA’s decision. Some critics are saying that the NCAA is heartless and others are saying that this is just another inconsistent ruling by the NCAA. So, the real question is: was the NCAA’s decision fair and consistent with its own rules and policies? It appears the answer is yes.

The NCAA is directed to consider relief when:

  • The school presents medical documentation of an injury or illness to a student-athlete’s immediate family member that is debilitating and requires ongoing medical care.
  • The student-athlete demonstrates he or she will be responsible for regular, ongoing caregiving responsibilities.
  • The school is within a 100-mile radius of the immediate family member’s home, which establishes the ability for the student-athlete to provide regular, ongoing care.

Hoffman simply did not satisfy these requirements. First and foremost, the NCAA found that Hoffman’s mother’s condition was no longer debilitating and even had evidence that her health was significantly better than when he originally went away to school (to Coastal Carolina). Further, he did not satisfy the 100-mile requirement, as Virginia Tech is over 100 miles from his mother’s residence. This radius requirement is to ensure that the student-athlete is moving to provide regular, ongoing care— another major consideration when determining whether an individual is entitled to a waiver. After evaluating these factors, the NCAA did not buy the argument that Hoffman’s primary purpose for transferring to Virginia Tech was to be closer to his mother.

Although it’s unfortunate that a top-caliber offensive lineman will have to wait a year to be back on the field, the NCAA’s decision this time around seems to be consistent with its rules and policies. But still, the NCAA could save face in the future by revising such a hard and fast rule and giving itself a bit more discretion when it comes to deciding who deserves a Hardship Waiver.

Just because a player is over the 100 mile mark or cannot commit to being the full-time caretaker of a family member doesn’t mean that the individual is not deserving of a waiver that would allow the player to transfer and play at a new school without any delay. The NCAA needs to be able to accommodate situations such as a player moving closer to home to see a family member on a weekly basis, to tag-team with others to drive to treatments, get groceries, and/or run other miscellaneous errands. A waiver should be warranted where a student-athlete wants to be (or needs to be) closer to home to help out; but unfortunately, as the NCAA rules are written now, there is simply no room for such considerations.

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