LOS ANGELES--UCLA junior offensive lineman Jeff Baca has been ruled academically ineligible for this season after the NCAA rejected his appeal, he said Wednesday.
Baca, who started all 13 games at left guard for the Bruins last season, has a redshirt year available and plans to use it, meaning he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
"I'm disappointed in myself, mostly," Baca said. "And I'm disappointed because I let the team down."
Baca entered UCLA out of Mission Viejo High as a pre-med major and said he was overwhelmed trying to balance a difficult course load with football. He has since changed his major to political science and said he took 14 units of classes in the summer quarter.
"I wanted to become a doctor and that was my goal when I came in here," Baca said. "I took some very tough courses and I didn't do as well as I wanted to. They say we're student athletes. Student first, athlete second and that's kind of how I wanted to approach this. I didn't get it done."
Because Baca made up missing units over the summer, coach Rick Neuheisel said he thought Baca had a strong case for his appeal. He said the school would "see what the next step is in that process" and "we'll do what's appropriate."
Baca's loss further thins an offensive line that has already lost center Kai Maiava, who broke his ankle last Saturday, and tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, who is on a two-year Mormon Mission. Also, tackle Mike Harris is suspended for the Sept. 4 season opener at Kansas State for a violation of team rules.
It was unclear when Baca would be able to return to the lineup even if his schoolwork was in order. He has missed all but two days of Fall camp with a stress fracture in his foot and said using his redshirt year is probably best in the long run.
"Coming off an injury, I think I would help the team after a redshirt year more than I would if I missed three games and came in with no training camp," he said. "I wouldn't be in shape. And chemistry. You can't just throw a guy in there."
Peter Yoon is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.