Padding the Stats: On Shamiel Stevenson's Waiver Denial
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: On Shamiel Stevenson’s Waiver Denial

November 29, 2019

I have a feeling the NCAA wasn’t on the list of things Fred Hoiberg was thankful for on Thursday. 

In case you missed the news from earlier in the week, Husker fans won’t be seeing Shamiel Stevenson in a Nebraska jersey until next season. The NCAA denied the transfer a waiver for immediate eligibility. Hoiberg chose to stay quiet publicly while the process played out, but now Nebraska has pretty much exhausted all of its options.

“I am disappointed and hurting for Shamiel,” Hoiberg said in a release on Tuesday. “We believed we presented a strong case on his behalf. We appreciate all the hard work that Jo Potuto and our Compliance staff put into advocating for Shamiel.”

The NCAA received over 100 waiver requests this year, and as of today there are still plenty of cases yet to be decided a full month into the season. Based on tweets I’ve seen from Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 players have had their requests denied, including Stevenson. 

Goodman also shared a tidbit about the players who have received waivers.

“Run-off” players are those who were pushed out at their previous schools. If you need an example, take Karrington Davis, Brady Heiman and Amir Harris from last year’s Nebraska roster. All three of those players received waivers to play right away at heir new schools (Southern Illinois, South Dakota and George Washington, respectively).

I’m all for these kinds of players getting waivers. There’s absolutely no reason why players should be prohibited from playing right away wherever they land when the coaches at the previous school didn’t want them on their roster. These cases usually rely on consent from the coach at the previous school, which can occasionally be an issue but often isn’t.

Stevenson is a different kind of case. Instead of being asked to leave by his coach, the coach is the one who left Stevenson. The 6-foot-6 forward got to spend one semester with Eric Musselman after transferring from Pittsburgh to Nevada in December, sitting out as most transfers do. Then Musselman left Reno after the season ended to take the head coaching gig at Arkansas.

Last I checked, Musselman didn’t have to sit out at all this season. He didn’t even have to buy himself out of his contract at Nevada; Arkansas took care of that for him. So why is it a different story for the players he left behind, like Stevenson?

Musselman isn’t the first coach that Stevenson watched leave him. The man he first committed to at Pitt, Kevin Stallings, got fired after his freshman year. Pitt hired Jeff Capel to replace Stallings and Stevenson decided to stick it out. However, for whatever reason things never clicked between Stevenson and Capel as he versatile forward wasn’t part of his new coach’s rotation. Seeing the writing on the wall, Stevenson decided to transfer at the semester break and landed at Nevada.

Having been burned by sticking around after a coaching change before, this time Stevenson put his name in the Transfer Portal after Musselman left and from there he chose Nebraska and Hoiberg.

Stevenson has already given up a full semester of eligibility that he won’t ever get back, and now he’ll have to sit out another year on top of that, using his redshirt.

The old recruiting cliche is that you should commit to a school, not a coach. But that’s just not reality. Stevenson initially did exactly that: he committed to Pittsburgh and played for two different coaches. For the first, he was a big part of the rotation. For the second, he logged more DNPs than he did appearances during the first 11 games of the season and it became pretty evident that Capel, who did not recruit him, didn’t really see him as a big part of the picture moving forward. 

College athletes only get four years to play their sport. Stevenson needed to do what was best for him as he didn’t have much more time to waste hoping that things would click with Musselman’s replacement, Steve Alford, better than they did with the last coach that replaced the man to whom he initially committed.

If players getting run off are getting waivers, so should players who had their coach leave them, either through termination or voluntary departure. After all, doesn’t the NCAA claim to have the student-athletes’ best interests in mind? If the issue is that Stevenson transferred twice in the same school year and thereby restarting his sit-out clock, well, there’s a pretty good reason for that as I explained above. 

The NCAA has dropped the ball in a big way with the entire waiver process. The fact that there are still so many kids waiting to hear about their cases this late in the season is a disgrace. Even if kids do get their waivers approved at this point, they’ve already missed out on a good chunk of games they won’t get back. If the NCAA won’t eliminate the sit-out requirement altogether for transfers, it either needs to hire more staff to get these waivers processed before the season or it needs to simplify and streamline the process to make it easier to get these cases knocked out by the existing staff.

Guys like Shamiel Stevenson are the victims of a broken system.

As for the basketball impact of this decision, it’s massive for Nebraska. The Huskers are currently 349th in the country in rebounding margin (there are only 350 fully-fledged Division I teams with three others making the transition up). In seven games, the Huskers have been outscored 101-32 in second-chance points. That is a serious problem.

Stevenson likely could have helped. As a freshman at Pitt, he posted a 16.8 defensive rebounding percentage, which would be the highest among Nebraska’s rotation players this season. The only two who are close (among those who have played more than 50 minutes this season) are Thorir Thorbjarnarson (16.3%) and Yvan Ouedraogo (15.2%).

In addition to his work on the glass, despite only being listed at 6-foot-6, Stevenson also offers more strength and length at 245 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan than anybody else Nebraska can throw out at the three or four positions right now. He also shot a respectable 37.5% from 3 his freshman year at Pittsburgh, and Nebraska could certainly use a reliable perimeter shooter right now.

Stevenson spent the last few months practicing as if he’d be eligible at some point this season. Now that he knows that won’t be the case, he can focus on playing a role on the scout team and working on his game for next season.

Unfortunately for the Huskers, the NCAA’s decision means there won’t be any reinforcements coming. What they’ve had to this point is what they’re going to have the rest of the way, which means Hoiberg has to find a different way to solve this team’s issues — if such a solution even exists.

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