Fitzgerald ruled ineligible due to athletic department mistake

A mistake by Indiana University’s athletic department will keep one of Tom Allen’s prized recruits off the field this season.

Freshman defensive back Bryant Fitzgerald has been ruled a final non-qualifier by the NCAA and will not be able to play or practice this fall after the athletic department’s compliance office inaccurately advised him on eligibility requirements. Fitzgerald will be allowed to maintain his full scholarship and all other athlete support benefits, but cannot take the field until next year.

He will retain four years of eligibility to use beginning in 2018. Taking a redshirt may ultimately benefit Fitzgerald, but his ineligibility is a black eye for IU’s athletic department.

In a release issued Saturday afternoon, IU athletics took full responsibility for the error. At the same time, athletic director Fred Glass called out the NCAA for denying a waiver request to restore Fitzgerald’s eligibility.

Indiana filed the request on Aug. 3 and was notified by the NCAA on Aug. 14 that the waiver had been denied. IU filed an appeal on the same day, but that second effort was denied on Friday. Had the compliance mistake not occurred, Indiana says Fitzgerald would have had “ample time” to establish eligibility.

“Bryant Fitzgerald is a smart, outstanding young man who is academically prepared and capable of being very successful at IU,” Glass said in a statement. “His ineligibility is not his fault. It is ours. On behalf of myself and everyone associated with IU Athletics, I personally apologize to Bryant and his family for our mistake. While it was an isolated and unintended one, it is no less devastating to Bryant, and I could not feel worse about it.”

Fitzgerald’s ineligibility removes a talented player out of Indiana’s secondary, where the Avon graduate was poised to backup sophomore Marcelino Ball as a hybrid safety. With Fitzgerald out of the mix, backup responsibilities could be split among Jayme Thompson, Ben Bach, or even freshman Juwan Burgess.

Fitzgerald, a Class 6A all-state honoree and Avon’s most valuable player in 2016, was a three-star prospect in the 247 Sports Composite rankings.

Since signing his National Letter of Intent with Indiana in February, Fitzgerald has been viewed as one of the top prospects in IU’s incoming freshman class. Allen believed he was the best high school player in the state of Indiana last fall, and saw an opportunity for Fitzgerald to earn an immediate role with the Hoosiers this season.

Now, that won’t happen.

“The process leading to the mistake has been fixed and redundancies added, and we are very confident nothing like this will ever happen again,” Glass said. “I am very disappointed in the NCAA for not granting our waiver request nor our appeal. Bryant should not have to bear the brunt of our mistake, and the NCAA could have, and should have, remedied that in the interest of this student’s well-being, who is in this situation through absolutely no fault of his own.”

In a video shot for IU’s official web site, Allen said that while he was heartbroken for Fitzgerald, he expects to have the promising freshman back on the field for spring practice.

“Just an unfortunate situation that’s transpired,” Allen said. “But we had a great talk with him, one-on-one. He’s going to be with us, obviously. He’ll have four more years to be able to go. As long as he takes care of business here in the fall, he’ll be with us in the spring on the field. He’ll be with us closely.

“It’s one of those situations where sometimes life’s not fair. We’ve talked about that throughout fall camp. He had a chance to live that out (Friday) and (Saturday) and realize that how you respond to adversity is gonna define who you become.”

10 comments

  1. Certainly IU’s fault but the NCAA could could have gone a long way to make it right for BF if he is as good a student as AD Glass eludes too.

  2. Although no real details are given, it seems like a small technicality. This is ridiculous for the NCAA to punish this student athlete. The whole organization is becoming a real joke and it’s only a matter of time before it implodes.

  3. Louisville, North Carolina and others…it seems like IU is getting their share of being picked on in the 21st century.

    1. Yeah, some defensive end at Alabama must have shot someone and the NCAA wanted to show their zero tolerance.

  4. So the NCAA finds a great kid, with good academics, and an isolated technical error in a good athletic department and crucified the kid. Yet it finds moral corruption of a high degree at Louisville and academic fraud of a high degree at UNC and does nothing! Sounds about “right”!

  5. Situations like NC, UL, and Fitgerald is the reason the Power of Five schools are ready to move out of the NCAA and form their own body. The sad part of this is the NCAA could do what is right by Fitzgerald while the school pays the price for their error; instead the NCAA makes no move to care about the “student”.

  6. Why is anyone surprised by the NCAA’s decision? They’ve been a corrupt and opportunistic enforcer of the rules for decades. As sited above, HUGE violations take place in other schools and either nothing happens, or it takes years for those schools to get a slap on the wrist. I mean when a school’s AD comes out and said, “it was our mistake and the kid had nothing to do with it,” the NCAA should take that into account. It’s time for these Power conferences to bring the NCAA to heal or simple withdraw and replace this corrupt association.

  7. Well said Podunker and I do hope Power 5 schools breakaway from the NCAA as they play favorites and punish the wrong party in this case.

  8. But the “reason” for the Big 5 to split off from the NCAA will likely be to protect the money flow of Louisville and UNC not to protect good kids like Bryant Fitzgerald.

  9. Beat Purdue: Cynical about big-time college sports? How can you be so unpatriotic?

    HC: “Alludes to.” But who knows, “AD Glass eludes too” might just work in the context of some future NCAA investigation, but let’s hope not. And just so you don’t feel picked on-

    PO: “bring . . . . to heel.” Although college sports certainly could use some healing.

    And yes, I do feel smugly superior for once in my otherwise lackluster life. I suspect that it will be fleeting.

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