At some point this evening, Tom Jensen's long wait will end.
All summer, as he has prepared for Villanova's 1980 football season, the 6-foot, 210-pound defensive end has asked himself the same question: Will I be able to play football this year?
He is not injured. In fact, for th first time in four years Jensen is healthy. The mononucleosis is gone. The migrain headaches have been conquered. The broken fingers which plaqued him all last season have healed.
But one substantial hurdle remains. Tom Jensen first enrolled in collge in September, 1975. That means the 1980-81 academic year is sixth since he first became a college student. Under NCAA rules, and athlete is entitled to four years of eligibility that must be used in five years.
"Unless the athlete can show some kind of really major problem which made it impossible for him to be in school," said Steve Morgan of the NCAA Enforcement Division. "That doesn't mean something which prevented him from playing ball like a broken arm or a broken leg. It has to be something that made it impossible to go to school at all."
Jensen and Villanova have filed on appeal asking that he be allowed to play in his sixth year because, they say migraine headaches forced him to leave school from Janurary of 1976 until September of 1977. Jensen had played one year of football at Potomac State in West Virginia when the headaches started.
He dropped out of school and went to Florida to work for one of his brothers. In 1977, he enrolled at Villanova and sat out of football season. In 1978 and '79, he was a starter on the Wildcat defense. After last season, he had used up his five years of time -- but not his four years of eligibility.
Additionally, Jensen found himself 12 credits -- about one semester -- short of graduation. Another year of football would enable him to retain his scholarship.
Jensen, from Doyleston, Pa., appealed first the the ECAC, Villanova's conference. The ECAC approved the appeal. The came the NCAA. This afternoon, an NCAA three-man rules council subcommittee will meet by conference telephone call with Villanova Athletic Director Ted Aceto and Jensen's family physician.
After that call, the three-man committee will discuss the situation and make a decision which will be relayed to Morgan, who will then inform Jensen and the school some time tonight whether Jensen can play against Maryland in Saturday's season opener.
Yesterday, neither Jensen or Coach Dick Bedsem wanted to discuss the situation.
"Tommy really doesn't feel like talking to anybody now," said school spokesman Tel Wolff. "Right now he's just depressed and worried. He's worked really hard all spring and summer to get ready to play and now here it is the 11th hour and he still doesn't know if he's going to be in uniform on Saturday."
If the NCAA rules against Jensen, he will lose his scholarship automatically; the five-year rule applies to both playing eligibility and scholarship aid. Without the scholarship, Jensen will probably have to drop out of school.
"He's fighting an uphill battle," Morgan said. "By nature, anyone making one of these appeals is fighting an uphill battle. It's pretty rare for them to be approved. The guidelines are extremely strict."
Two and a half years ago, Jensen would not have gotten this far. Up until then, the five-year rule had two exceptions written into it -- time taken off because of religion. There were no other exceptions.
In 1978, the NCAA Council amended the rule to allow for appeal in exceptional situations. "Since then, there have been about 25 cases where athletes have been granted a sixth year," Morgan said. "The cases have involved things like serious automobile accidents which put someone in the hospital for months; spinal injuires; industrial accidents and a couple of cases where the athlete involved had cancer and needed extensive treatment which prevented him from going to school."
Two Division I football players have been granted a sixth year, Morgan
"The player has to have very clear documentation from his physician showing he couldn't be in school," Morgan said. "Even if the appeal is approved, it is approved only for the exact number of days that he couldn't attend school."
Thus, it is conceivable that Jensen might be granted part of a season of eligibility. More likely, though, it will be all or nothing.
It is the possibility of nothing that is keeping Jensen and the Villanova people on tenterhooks. "Steve loves to play football," Wolff said. "He really hasn't been completely heathy at any time in his college career until now.
"Everyone connected with the team is rooting for him. Not just because we need him but because we want him to have this shot and also have a chance to finish school.
"The one thing we have going for us," Wolff added, "is the ECAC approved. In the past, when the conference has approved an appeal, the NCAA has usually gone along with it and let the kid play. For now, all Tommy can do is hope.
Lloyd Burruss, Eric Sievers and Marlin Van Horn were again held out of contact yesterday and are questionable starters for Maryland Saturday. They all sat out all or most of last season with injuries. . . Placekicker punter Dale Castro has been receiving treatment for soreness in his kicking leg. He kicked well in last Friday's scrimmage. . . Sophomore quaterback Boomer Esiason, normally the jayvee starter, has been out of practice all week with a sore knee . . . Senior wide receiver Chris Havener, who missed almost all of last season, has had an excellent summer and has won the starting split end spot.