From the Booth: For J-Mac, choice was math or dad

By Ryan Casey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 7, 2005

Some members of the media may attack Arizona sophomore forward Jawann McClellan for his academic troubles, but students who have also lost a family member during the school year may be able to relate to him.

Yes, it's true - McClellan has been ruled academically ineligible to play on the Arizona men's basketball team this fall after failing a class over the summer, potentially relegating him to the bench to sit and watch his teammates in street clothes for the first seven games of the 2005 season.

I know what you're thinking - we've all heard the story before. An athlete fails a class, but a school's athletic department overlooks that fact or finds a loophole in order to keep him or her on the court - or field, depending on the sport. It happened all over the nation in the early '90s.

A few things have changed since then, among them tougher NCAA sanctions. However, all of that is irrelevant, as this is not a case of an athlete getting a free pass - it goes much deeper than that.

Over the summer, McClellan's father, George, died in the younger McClellan's hometown of Houston. The two were close, as McClellan grew up in the area, and the loss of his father hit the sophomore hard.

In July, as the second session of summer school began, the sophomore enrolled in a math course but apparently was not quite ready for school. McClellan split time between Texas and Tucson, returning home to be with his mother during the tumultuous time and missing a week of classes in the process. The work began to pile up.

Ask any student on this campus how much that student does in simply a day of class during the summer - with each three-hour course equating to a week of classes during a regular semester - multiply that by five, and then you'll have a rough idea of how much class work McClellan missed. It's no wonder he failed the class.

But can he honestly be blamed? His father passed away, for goodness' sake. He was going through one of the toughest times of his life. I'm sure there are dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of students at this university who have appealed a grade on a bereavement claim. Why should he be any different?

If the answer is because he's an athlete and should be held to higher standards, then we need to seriously evaluate those standards.

No student - regardless of athletic ability - should be blamed for poor academic performance in cases such as McClellan's. The loss of a close family member strikes close to the heart, and even if McClellan were able to attend all the classes, it most likely would have been hard for him to concentrate on his schoolwork.

Now, there are certain situations where athletes on this campus should be held to standards higher than the average student with regard to grades, behavior, etc. as they represent our school.

But in this situation, those standards should have no bearing on the ruling. If it were a case of McClellan simply not completing his work because of laziness or something of that sort, then grounds to have him ruled ineligible would be undeniable. But once again, the situation does not warrant the punishment.

What kind of message would the academic appeals committee send to the student body if they were to reject his appeal?

It'd be loud and clear: "We don't care if your father died, school comes first."

It'd also be absolutely pathetic. Family comes above all else - above jobs, above athletics and above school.

Soon, that appeal process will begin for McClellan, and one can only hope that the board members put themselves in his situation when considering the case.

If you happen to see No. 5 around campus over the next few weeks, let him know that you're pulling for him. I will be.

Ryan Casey is a journalism junior and the sports director at KAMP Student Radio. His radio show can be heard Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on 1570 AM or at