The college basketball player who hit a half-court shot for $20,000 at an Oklahoma City Thunder game last month will be allowed to use the money toward his tuition without losing any athletic eligibility.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics yesterday granted Cameron Rodriguez, a 23-year-old forward at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, a rules exception that will let him use the money as a scholarship. Rodriguez on Nov. 18 was randomly chosen to attempt the 47-foot shot.
“It feels good, this is going to take a huge chunk out of my tuition,” Rodriguez said yesterday in a telephone interview. “And hopefully it will make things easier if someone else hits it next time.”
A 6-foot-6, 210-pound sophomore from Elk City, Oklahoma, Rodriguez swished the halftime promotion, sponsored every home game by Oklahoma City-based MidFirst Bank. He said he realized shortly after his celebration that accepting the money could be in conflict with his eligibility, and worked with his school and the NAIA to file a request for an exception.
“We feel the NAIA is the student-centered association in collegiate athletics, and this decision by our membership reflects that emphasis,” NAIA President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Carr said in an e-mailed release.
The NAIA student guide says athletes cannot use their athletic ability or fame for financial reward, including prizes from promotions in their sport of focus. John Leavens, the executive director of the NAIA Eligibility Center, said last month that Rodriguez’s decision to alert the NAIA before accepting the money would be considered in his request for an exception.
“We are proud of our student-athlete for doing the right thing in contacting his coach before he did anything,” Southwestern President Dick Merriman said in an e-mailed release. “We are also proud of the NAIA for doing the right thing in their ruling. I am pleased with this outcome.”
Last week, the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference recommended that the NAIA allow Rodriguez to use the money toward his tuition. Commissioner Scott Crawford said in a telephone interview that Rodriguez’s case was an “exceptional situation” that deserved an exemption.
Every one of Southwestern College’s 1,700 students receives financial aid through institutional grants to help with the $23,000 annual tuition, according to Brenda Hicks, the school’s director of financial aid.
Rodriguez said his total tuition is roughly $33,000 per year when he adds room, board, books and other fees. About $10,000 of that is covered by his $4,000 athletic scholarship and other grants, he said. The rest he said he covers with student loans and help from his parents.
“They’ve been real supportive through the whole process,” Rodriguez said. “They just want what’s best for me, and I want what’s best for them, so I’m pretty excited that they get to save that money.”
Both the Thunder and MidFirst Bank said in e-mailed statements that they were pleased with the NAIA decision.
“Like the Thunder, we wish Mr. Rodriguez the very best in his academic and athletic endeavors,” MidFirst said in its statement.
Rodriguez is one of five people to hit the half-court shot at Chesapeake Energy Arena during the 2013 calendar year. MidFirst Bank said in November that it had no plans to stop its six-year sponsorship of the shot. G. Jeffrey Records Jr., the bank’s chief executive, owns a piece of the Thunder.
The Moundbuilders are 6-3 this season. Rodriguez said he becomes eligible to play later this month after sitting out the fall semester as he made up credits from his previous school, Northern Oklahoma College.
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