By Brian Dzenis
Perhaps Youngstown State hasn’t seen the last of Francisco Santiago.
Coach Jarrod Calhoun announced this week that Santiago will have season-ending surgery on his left knee and that the team is pursuing a sixth year of eligibility for him via a hardship waiver from the NCAA.
A hardship waiver grants an additional year of eligibility because of a catastrophic event that is considered to be outside the athlete’s control. In Santiago’s case, it was a series of injuries to his left knee.
It’s a 180-degree switch from YSU’s assessment of Santiago’s situation a month ago.
“We’re looking more into his case. I don’t want to get into specifics,” Calhoun said following the team’s victory against Milwaukee on Thursday. “I’ve always been a big proponent of student-athletes and he deserves another chance. We want to get another year back.
“We’ve dug a little bit deeper into it and our university backs its athletes. We’re going at this 110 percent and hopefully he gets that year back.”
On Dec. 4 during a team news conference, Calhoun revealed that the senior point guard had torn his ACL in July and was attempting to play through it. This news came after he exited a Nov. 29 game against Robert Morris with further damage to that knee.
At the time, Calhoun said it was Santiago’s decision to play after consultation with doctors in Youngstown and Cleveland, who determined he could play.
Another factor was the idea that Santiago was running out of eligibility.
A college athlete has five years to complete four years of competition. In the December press conference, Calhoun said that after speaking with Associate Athletic Director Elaine Jacobs and “multiple” school officials, Santiago had “zero chance” of gaining an additional year. The thinking was Santiago was out of eligibility because he had a redshirt year to transfer from Wheeling Jesuit in addition to his time at YSU.
It’s unclear why the school didn’t immediately pursue a hardship waiver in July. To do so, the application is submitted through the school’s conference — the Horizon League — to the NCAA and the school would get an answer at the end of the season. YSU also could directly appeal the NCAA’s Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement if the Horizon League didn’t want to cooperate.
“It’s a good question and it’s a little bit out of my control,” Calhoun said. “Our athletic department is digging into the case and it doesn’t really have to do with the medical part of it.
“It has to do with his first year at Wheeling Jesuit and trying to get that year back,” Calhoun said. “If we can sort that out, we’ll submit the paper work. [Assistant Athletic Director Emily Wollet and Jacobs] will handle it and they’re good at what they do.”
Santiago joined Wheeling Jesuit out of Cleveland St. Ignatius before transferring to YSU. He used a redshirt for that transfer during the 2014-15 season. The rule book and precedent seem to point in Santiago’s favor even with that on his record.
The 2017-18 edition of the NCAA’s Division I handbook outlines two key criteria for an athlete to gain an extra year of eligibility in the event of an “incapacitating” or season-ending injury.
For athletes who have transferred, the hand book says hardship waiver legislation “may be based on the method that would be most beneficial to the student-athlete.” The injury does not have to be one sustained while practicing or playing his or her sport.
The first rule is that the athlete must be injured prior to the team’s “halfway mark” in the season and that designation differs depending on the sport. In men’s basketball, the player would have to have played in less than 30 percent of the team’s games.
Santiago played in eight games this year.
YSU will play a minimum of 32 games this year, so Santiago will have played in 25 percent of the Penguins’ games, so that makes him in the clear in that respect.
For the second set of criteria, the school has to show documentation that the injury was incapacitating.
There are numerous examples of athletes who have been granted a hardship waiver even if they’ve used a redshirt.
For a recent example at No. 1-ranked Michigan State, reserve forward Ben Carter is enjoying an extra year because of a hardship waiver. Carter transferred from Oregon to UNLV after his sophomore season, using a redshirt for the move in the 2014-15 season.
He tore his ACL in his lone year with the Rebels, but played in too many games to earn a waiver.
After graduating from UNLV, he transferred to Michigan State, where he again tore his ACL in the team’s first practice before the 2016-17 season, but the Spartans successfully obtained a waiver so he could play this season.