The matter of Alex Len’s eligibility will not be settled on Friday, as first-year Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said he expected during the Terrapins’ media day on Wednesday.
In fact, an NCAA spokesman said Thursday that the NCAA Eligibility Center was “not anywhere close” to determining Len’s status.
“There has been no decision made one way or the other on this young man’s eligibility,” NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne said in a telephone interview. “We’re not anywhere close to decision-making stage.”
In the short term, it means that Len — a 7-foot-1 center from Ukraine who would add sorely needed size and shot-blocking ability to a short-handed, guard-heavy roster — won’t be able to take part in Maryland Madness on Friday night, assuming the university’s timeline on when he submitted his paperwork to the NCAA is correct. Moreover, under NCAA rules, Len must stop practicing with the team until his status is clarified.
There’s no telling how long the process could take, delaying Len’s acclimation to the tempo and terminology of the college game and leaving the Terrapins with just eight scholarship players in the meantime.
Under NCAA rules, players can practice up to 45 days with their team while their eligibility is being reviewed. According to a Maryland official, Len’s 45-day window expires Friday, which means he must stop working out with the team.
Wynne said he couldn’t confirm the timetable in Len’s case, deferring to Maryland on that, but noted: “You have a 45-day window to be certified. Once your 45 days are up, if a decision has not been reached, you cannot practice or compete with the team.”
There are two components of NCAA eligibility: academic eligibility (grade-point average in core courses, performance on college entrance exams) and amateur status (whether they have accepted money from a club, pro team or sponsor).
If his eligibility is denied, Maryland can appeal the decision. Once an appeal is filed, Len can resume practicing with the team but cannot compete in games.
The questions holding up Len’s approval relate to his amateur status rather than academic issues, according to several people familiar with the proceedings. Amateurism can be difficult to document in the case of international players who have grown up in club systems and competed for national teams overseas.
That’s what ultimately prevented Enes Kanter, a 6-11 center from Turkey, from suiting up for Kentucky last season despite a five-month effort by the Wildcats to get him cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Kanter was deemed to have played professionally in Europe and found to have accepted more then $30,000 above his playing expenses before pursuing an NCAA career. His case dragged on from August 2010 to January 2011, with Kentucky appealing NCAA rulings at every turn.
Asked how long Len’s case might take to resolve, Wynne said: “We have made requests [for further information], and we are awaiting the answer. I can’t give you a timeline as to when we think it’ll come because you’re talking about 18 time zones away, with different languages and different priorities.”
Athletes who are found to have violated their amateur status are typically deemed permanently ineligible by the NCAA. Schools can appeal on their behalf, and in some cases athletes can earn a reprieve by repaying any money deemed an improper benefit and sitting out a certain number of games.
Targeted by Maryland recruiters before Turgeon was hired, the 7-1, 225-pound Len was a standout for the Ukraine national team at the Under-18 European Championships in 2010. He has worked out with the Terrapins since August, been assigned a Terrapins jersey (No. 25) and posed for the team picture at media day.
On Wednesday, Turgeon described Len as a skilled player and quick learner but acknowledged there was a bit of a language barrier in working with him.
“I don’t know when the light bulb is going to come on — one month, two months, a year — I don’t know,” Turgeon said. “We’ll see. But he has a high skill level and a lot of God-given ability. But it’s a different game for him right now.”