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IOWA CITY — Iowa defensive end Drew Ott’s quest for a medical hardship waiver follows an unusual, but not unique, path. That’s part of the reason why the Big Ten forwarded his request to the NCAA.
Ott competed in six games as a true senior last fall for Iowa and suffered substantial injuries in two of them that required surgery. Ott exceeded official NCAA requirements for a waiver by playing in more than 30 percent of Iowa’s 13 regular-season games (counting the Big Ten championship). But Iowa appealed on Ott’s behalf, and the Big Ten’s six-member academics and eligibility subcommittee agreed on Monday to send Ott’s case to the NCAA.
“It comes under a different set of review because it’s beyond the 30 percent,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta told The Gazette. “But there have been others across the country who have achieved this, which is one of the reasons we continue to be optimistic until there are no more appeals.
“The decision making body is the NCAA — not the Big Ten — when it goes over the 30 percent. Really, the Big Ten makes a recommendation for the NCAA to hear it, and it’s passed that hurdle. Now the decision is the NCAA’s whether or not to grant it.”
Barta said he’s been given no timetable for the NCAA’s decision. He said, “Typically it’s weeks rather than months.” Based on news accounts, the majority of the NCAA decisions on medical waivers are handed out in late March.
The NCAA has granted special waivers for athletes who have competed in more than 30 percent of their team’s games. In 2014, Temple sophomore forward Daniel Dingle was granted a medical red-shirt after playing in 10 of the Owls’ 31 games (32 percent) that year. NCAA officials on Friday declined to reveal specific situations where an athlete exceeded 30 percent of games played and were granted a special waiver.
“Each request is reviewed individually and decisions are made based on the unique factors involved. I can’t comment on specific students,” wrote NCAA associate director Michelle Hosick.
Ott appeared in six games last fall but missed significant snaps in three. He suffered a dislocated left elbow in the second quarter of Iowa’s second game at Iowa State. He played sparingly in Iowa’s next two games, one of which he started. He then opened Iowa’s first two conference games against Wisconsin and Illinois. In the third quarter of Iowa’s sixth game, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which ended his season. In October he had knee surgery, and in November, Ott had his ulnar collateral ligament replaced with a tendon in his elbow, commonly known as Tommy John surgery.
According to the Big Ten, schools officially petition for medical hardships once a team’s season is completed. The compliance coordinator and head team physician fill out medical statements that include injury dates, prescribed treatments and medical reasons why the athlete could not participate.
Ott’s situation has received more publicity because of his stature. He was considered among the Big Ten’s top defensive players entering the 2015 season. Despite limited playing time, he recorded five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Before his injury he was considered a likely top-100 draft pick. The NCAA granted Ott special permission to attend last week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
“The NCAA has been terrific through this process, even before it has gotten to them,” Barta said. “We’ve had dialogue with them about precedent. There have been other students across this country who have been granted some sort of approval moving forward. We got that information and impression through conversations with the NCAA. They’ve been helpful there.”
The process has frustrated fans, school officials and especially Ott, who discussed his situation with reporters last Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“I’ve worked through it, I’ve been dealing with it for a couple months now,” Ott told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I’m not too worked up about it. I’ll be fine either way.”
Barta remains hopeful for a positive conclusion.
“We all wish it could happen quickly,” Barta said. “But it truly is the 30 percent that creates the extra process and time because it’s outside the normal principle. That’s a big reason why it’s taking more time. I’ve been grateful. I want it to happen faster. Drew, more than I certainly, most importantly, and his family want it to go faster. Drew has been great. He has been patient. But while this has been going on, while we would have liked for it to happen faster, the NCAA has been helpful in talking about precedent and how different cases have been approved over the years as well giving him this approval to go the combine was in place.
“That doesn’t guarantee any decision, one way or another. But they’ve been helpful as the process has been going on.”
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