NCAA does the right thing in Siena case

Lionel Gomis didn’t choose to skip two years of school after his mother died and he was searching for a stable home in Senegal.

He was 14. The NCAA and college basketball wasn’t even in his mind. Yet those two lost years of schooling were deemed the reason why he was originally given a bizarre penalty from the NCAA. As we reported back on Sept. 2, Gomis was initially told he would have to sit out this season as a freshman at Siena, play one season and then be done.

But on Tuesday, the NCAA’s legislative staff showed it can take new information and have a heart. The Gomis decision was reversed and he will now have three years of eligibility after sitting out the 2011-12 season. Gomis’ classmate, Imoh Silas, has to sit this season as well, but he too will have three seasons of eligibility.

“It means a lot to me knowing I have three years instead of just one year,’’ Gomis told ESPN.com. “I am glad they've reversed and comprehend the situation. As for playing this year, I’m still hoping they will give me the reclassification of the year back.’’

Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said the compliance staff did diligent work in providing documents for the NCAA. The NCAA had requested a birth certificate, a death certificate for Gomis’ mother and her work statements from a job that no longer exists. All of these documents were extremely difficult to find thousands of miles away from upstate New York.

The decision was based on a new rule that was adopted in April 2010 and became legislative NCAA law last month. It states that delayed enrollment will result in a loss of year for every season that a student isn’t in school from the time they were supposed to have graduated high school. A student has a five-year window to complete his or her high school core curriculum or the international equivalent. Each country was given a different time period.

“We are happy for Lionel that the NCAA review staff took into consideration the additional documentation that we provided about his hardship and reinstated two years of eligibility,” D’Argenio said in a statement. “These cases are difficult to judge, and there can be extenuating circumstances. That’s why there are multiple steps to the process. We will continue to use all NCAA legislative relief options available to us in pursuing the fourth year of eligibility for both players.”

Siena will appeal the forced redshirt season that came about because both players were reclassified at their respective prep schools: Blair Academy (N.J.) for Gomis and the Holderness School (N.H.) for Silas, who is from Lagos, Nigeria.

“We will continue to seek new information to support a reconsideration of each case,” said associate athletic director Joyce Eggleston, who oversees Siena’s compliance office. “Lionel and Imoh are eligible to practice and will retain their basketball scholarships.”