Why Comparing Devin Gardner to Jamoris Slaughter Is Comparing Apples to Oranges

Yesterday, news broke that the NCAA granted Michigan QB Devin Gardner a medical hardship. Gardner, who had a bad back and missed most of his freshmen season in 2010, will now have two seasons of eligibility left instead of just one. This news likely will make many Notre Dame fans quite upset as Jamoris Slaughter recently had his petition for a sixth year denied by the NCAA, with an appeal and #FreeSlaughter campaign ended in the same rejection.

The situations look very similar, both were requesting an extra year because an injury knocked them out for most of the season. I saw no difference either and voiced my own displeasure via Twitter when this news broke. That’s when Jen Vining-Smith, assistant AD for compliance at ND, took me to school and educated me on the difference:

I was a bit confused on this issue still. Both were injured, both missed over 30% of their seasons because of it. Where is the difference?!

Slaugther’s case, Vining-Smith clarified, was a petition for a “6th year [extending] the 5 year clock based on 2 missed opportunities to participate.” Gardner’s case on the other hand was a hardship waiver which “[gets] a season back (additional season) within the 5 year clock when a student athlete has been injured in the first half of the season and participated in less than 30% of contests.”

Gardner had only played in three seasons and was never redshirted. Michigan went to the NCAA and said that his 2010 season should be granted a hardship because he was injured. The season that the NCAA gave back was still within the 5 year clock that Vining-Smith discribes. This is why Gardner’s case was such a “slam dunk” as she stated to me earlier.

Slaughter on the other hand had a much tougher case to prove. In order to get a sixth year, Slaughter had to show the NCAA that he missed two opportunities to play. While we are all aware of Slaughter’s injury in the 2012 season, that is only one year missed and Slaughter needed two. What Notre Dame argued was that Slaughter’s first season (2008), in which he redshirted, was actually a redshirt due to injury.

As I mentioned in my previous post on this matter, John Infante of Bylaw Blog fame had the following to say on this matter, which now makes a lot more sense:

Notre Dame didn’t have enough medical documentation to prove that Slaughter’s redshirt year in 2008 was actually due to an injury. Thus, the NCAA ruled that Notre Dame could only prove that Slaughter missed one year and not two due to injury. A normal redshirt year counts against the five year clock as it isn’t a true opportunity missed to play, but rather a strategic decision to purposefully bench the player all season. By doing this, a player retains his four years of playing eligibility, but stays within the five year period that the NCAA allows for athletic participation.

The ruling still sucks for Slaughter, but the NCAA definitely got this one right — even though it pains me greatly to admit so.