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The NCAA is making life difficult for African basketball players, so now it's getting sued

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There has to be a better solution than this.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There's not much a player can do when facing an eligibility battle with the NCAA. The organization is notoriously slow making decisions, leaving players who haven't been cleared to hang in the wind until a ruling comes down. Now two freshmen -- Kansas's Cheick Diallo and UCF's Tacko Fall -- are reportedly taking matters into their own hands by hiring lawyers and challenging the NCAA's inquiries into their respective academic backgrounds in court.

The obvious similarities between the two? Both have recently come to the United States from Africa to play for small Christian high schools, making it difficult to track their academic records. But this raises questions about the significant hurdles disadvantaged players from Africa face when wanting to play college basketball compared to those who have spent their entire lives in the United States.

Academically, the decision to declare Fall ineligible is the most curious. He bounced around to various small Christian schools when he arrived in the US from Senegal two years ago before ending up at Liberty Christian Preparatory School in Florida. Now the NCAA is questioning much of his course work because it has not certified Liberty Christian.

Still, despite adjusting to America, Fall finished with a 3.6 GPA in his two years at Liberty Christian. It appears the NCAA is making this situation unnecessarily difficult on Fall, considering his grades and the fact that UCF admitted him to school.

In a letter obtained by ESPN, Fall wrote to the NCAA that he lived with his mother and younger brother in a one-bedroom apartment and often had just one meal a day. Wettstein said that Fall sends as much of the money he receives from cost of attendance stipend back home so his younger brother can attend school -- which is not free -- in Senegal.

Less is known about Diallo's academic prestige, but the situation is similar. Diallo is from Mali and attended a small Christian high school that the NCAA views as suspicious.

"According to Yahoo! Sports, the information includes more than 2,000 pages of Diallo's homework from Our Savior New American and school records dating back to Diallo's time in his home country of Mali."

The NCAA is also reportedly looking into Diallo's guardian, a Malian-American who, according to the Kansas City Star, also has a relationship with St. John's recruit Kassoum Yakwe, a Malian player who also attended Our Savior New American. Essentially, the NCAA wants to make sure Diallo's guardian is not an agent of sorts who is trying to profit off African basketball players. Diallo will be an NBA lottery pick whether he plays in college or not. But at the same time, that hurts the athletes.

Players from Africa already at a disadvantage in the NCAA system because they need someone to be a guardian in America and that is always going to call suspicion to the NCAA. And if the player goes to a Christian academy that is willing to take him in to offer a sense of community and home, he's going to be in trouble academically, too.

So what is the remedy? Fall and Diallo hope it's a lawsuit, but the reality is that they are extremely unlikely to win. Former Seton Hall recruit Michael Glover tried, but that suit was dismissed. As of now, the courts have held steady in allowing the NCAA to run as a cartel under the guise of academic integrity.

But the real reason Fall and Diallo's situations are so toxic in college basketball is to protect the schools. Even though their academics were good enough to get them into their respective institutions, schools are so paranoid about thinking their peers will go to Africa to find semi-professional athletes that they vet African players beyond reason, even if, by every indication, they are good students.

The NCAA is moving further in this direction. It recently passed legislation that makes students take core classes earlier in their high school careers or risk sitting on the bench for a year. In basketball, where redshirts are uncommon, it's unlikely players at risk academically will get the chances they do now. That's fine for athletes at rich high schools who have the resources to adjust to the new rules, but it's very difficult for athletes in low-income areas and especially difficult for athletes coming to the US from Africa.

Fall and Diallo probably deserve to be playing college basketball. Their respective schools already admitted them the chance to do so. But they come from a background far different from the NCAA's idyllic system, meaning they'll have to fight beyond reason to get the same chance given to other athletes.