At first glance, the end result of Notre Dame forward Tim Abromaitis's brush with the arcane end of the NCAA rulebook feels like so many such brushes do. A four-game suspension for having played in two exhibition games as a sophomore? The NCAA seems outmoded, silly, distracted, borderline draconian -- all the adjectives we like to conjure when it's time to whip up a good anti-NCAA lather. Fun stuff.
But that's only the first glance. At the end of the day, given the alternatives, reason prevailed. For both Notre Dame and the NCAA.
Basically, the story -- as announced by Notre Dame athletics in a release Tuesday morning -- goes a little something like this: As a sophomore in 2008-09, Abromaitis played in two exhibition games. He then sat the rest of the exhibition season so Notre Dame could preserve his full year of eligibility, a little loophole coaches happily use for redshirt freshmen frequently. Unfortunately, the NCAA doesn't allow you to pull that move with sophomores, something Notre Dame coach Mike Brey admitted to flat-out flubbing.
"This certainly was an unfortunate misunderstanding that I had of the NCAA rule," Irish coach Mike Brey said in a statement. "I discovered that I had misinterpreted the rule midway through the 2008-09 season and immediately reported it to our compliance office."
Notre Dame appealed to the NCAA. The NCAA could have stuck to the letter of the law. By rights, Abromaitis could have been ineligible for his entire senior season, and he and his school would have had no one to blame but Brey. But that tact wouldn't have helped anyone. It certainly wouldn't have helped Abromaitis, a lauded student-athlete in good standing at a prestigious institution, continue his amateur basketball career. And it would have been horror for the NCAA's image. A star player misses his entire senior season because he played in two exhibition games three years ago? Can you imagine the angry columns and self-righteous blog posts? Can you fathom the number of uses of the word "hypocritical?" It would have been a disaster.
So the NCAA chose the reasonable path: Abromaitis will serve a four-game suspension at the beginning of the year and will return in time for Notre Dame's trip to the CBE Classic in Kansas City on Nov. 21. The Irish get their best player for pretty much the entire season. The NCAA avoids a public relations nightmare. Win and win. Hooray for everyone! (Well, except maybe Brey. That could have been bad.)