Remember that week in November when it seemed like there was something in the water in Oklahoma City? On both Monday, November 18th and Thursday, November 21st — in back to back Thunder games — fans hit halfcourt shots in Oklahoma City to win $20,000. Those two shots were the fourth and fifth since March 2013 in Oklahoma City and made Thunder fans slightly better 3-point shooters over that span than Hall of Famer Alex English was for his career. But there was a catch for Cameron Rodriguez, the second of the fans to hit the halfcourt shot in as many nights. Rodriguez attends Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, where he plays for the men’s basketball team. Southwestern is a member of the NAIA, which prohibits its student-athletes from profiting off of their athletic ability. In hitting that halfcourt shot, Rodriguez arguably did just that, and the NAIA had to figure out whether or not he’d be able to keep the money.
Too often in situations like this, the letter of the law ends up taking precedent over the spirit of competition and fair play. But this time, the NAIA has ruled that Rodriguez will be able to keep the money, more or less. While he cannot receive a cash payment from the Thunder, he will be able to accept the $20,000 prize as a scholarship to be applied to the cost of his college education, according to Bloomberg News.
Rodriguez reportedly realized the conflict shortly after hitting the shot and subsequently took the proper steps to report the potential violation to his coach and school. He and Southwestern College then worked with the NAIA to request an exception and figure out the best way to handle the situation. Awarding the prize as a scholarship is a commendable decision, allowing Rodriguez to keep the money he won without losing his eligibility as a basketball player and apply it to his tuition costs. (It’s worth noting that had Rodriguez not reached an agreement with the NAIA, MidFirst Bank — which sponsors the halfcourt shot — had offered to donate the money to a charity in Rodriguez’s name.)
And am I wrong, or did the NAIA take a little bit of a shot at another college athletic organization that might not have come to such a workable solution?
“We’re pleased with the decision,” NAIA President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Carr said in an e-mailed release. “We feel the NAIA is the student-centered association in collegiate athletics, and this decision by our membership reflects that emphasis.”
Either way, congratulations to Rodriguez, who just saw the cost of his time in college get a little lighter.