Frederick Epting will be a freshman football player for Drake this fall. He graduated from high school in Springfield, Illinois, with a 4.2 GPA and as a member of the National Honor Society, and since Drake doesn't offer football scholarships, he'll be attending the university on a full academic scholarship.
Basically, his story is the narrative that the NCAA loves to talk about.
But Epting still had a major problem. Abandoned by his parents at the age of two, he grew up homeless and bounced around from house to house. And while the free education from Drake will be great for him, he'll still be $9,000-per-year short of paying for the full cost of attending school, since the university can't give him additional athletic aid.
To make up the difference, Epting and a teacher set up a crowd-sourcing fund with the goal of paying for his first year of school. As of July 1, they had raised $31,000, enough to get him through more than three years.
There was one issue. Due to the NCAA's strict eligibility rules that make sure nobody — including Pioneer League football players — is receiving impermissible benefits, Epting could be ineligible if anyone affiliated with Drake donated to the fund. Athletic department officials reviewed the donations and Epting received a waiver from the NCAA to keep the money, similar to the waiver a homeless Boise State recruit received.
Happy ending, right? Well in this case, things turned out pretty well for Epting. However, even in granting the waiver, the NCAA put in the absurd qualifier that nobody from Drake is allowed to donate — so no boosters and nobody else affiliated with the university, "because that could potentially compromise his eligibility down the road," the initial report read. "The school encourages people to not donate going forward."
Why on earth is that a qualifier? Epting is already committed to Drake, so this isn't a payment to make sure he chooses Drake over another school. And he's going to a school in the Pioneer League, so it's not like he's a star recruit that big-money boosters are trying to win over.
Why is it bad that a kid who has never had money in his life could raise enough money to live comfortably while in college — not even because he's maximizing his value as a football player, but simply because people want to do nice things for someone who represents their school?
Those boosters who would almost certainly be willing to help a homeless kid dreaming of a better future? They're ruining everything that's right with college athletics. At least, that's what the NCAA tells us.