Howard University officials yesterday insisted they are legally restricted by NCAA rules from aiding walk-on running back Ivan Thompson, who complained to The Washington Post Wednesday that he has no money to buy food and has gone hungry for several days at a time this semester.
However, an NCAA official said there is a way for the school's athletic department to award the 20-year-old junior a scholarship. David Berst, the NCAA's director of enforcement, said, "If the athlete is truly a walk-on, meaning he has not been recruited, the school can aid him this year and just have one less athletic scholarship allotted for next year. NCAA regulations do not prohibit a school from aiding someone who is truly a walk-on."
The university's switchboard, athletic department and public relations offices were deluged with calls yesterday, offering assistance to the youngster. However, Thompson is forbidden by NCAA rules to accept such help and could have his eligibility suspended if he did.
When asked during an hour interview: "What can be done for Ivan Thompson?" Howard Athletic Director Leo Miles replied, "Nothing, as far as the athletic department is concerned. Anything we contributed to him would be aid. Even extra meal tickets would count toward an athletic reward. Howard University then would be in violation of Bylaw 5 and we could be put on probation."
"We have used all our scholarships' for this year," Miles reiterated, "so no matter how much we would like to help Ivan, we can't. It's right here in the NCAA handbook."
Informed of Berst's comments, Miles said, "I have no knowledge of that rule."
Thompson, a 20-year-old Cleveland native who transfered to Howard a year ago from a junior college in Ontario, Oregon, never was recruited by Howard or promised an athletic scholarship, according to Bison Coach Floyd Keith. Thompson told the Post that he never asked for a scholarship, but just wanted to be included on the meal plan with the scholarship athletes because he spent all of his summer job earnings on tuition and fees.
Miles also said Thompson gets more money in the form of loans and funds from the school's financial-aid office than scholarship athletes receive. "A full scholarship totals $4,059 and that includes tuition, room and board plus $150 in books. He (Thompson) had more than that," Miles said. One school official estimated that Thompson had received roughly $4,200 in aid. A reporter's request to see the financial records was denied.
Thompson reportedly was seeing a doctor for an inflamed right knee and could not be reached for comment.
Miles, who said he plans to talk to Thompson soon, added that he has major questions about how Thompson spent his university aid.
"I'm not questioning whether or not he's hungry or doesn't have the money to buy food," Miles said, "but the implication of that story yesterday was that here's a kid going without food and Howard University is refusing to do anything about it. We can't do anything."
The Washington Post received scores of calls from people offering Thompson assistance, including several restaurant owners who offered him money and food. "Alumni or no one else can donate anything to the athlete or there would be a violation," Berst said, citing the NCAA's "extra-benefit rule."
Coach Keith, who left with his team yesterday for Petersburg and Saturday's game against Virginia State, said he told Thompson right from the start there were no available scholarships and that he would have to prove himself before being considered for one.
"If he's eligible academically in January, I have no problem putting Ivan on scholarship," Keith said. "But I had already committed myself to other youngsters for scholarships before I had even seen Ivan. This guy has been a surprise. A pleasant surprise. And I feel for Ivan. I suffer with him. But the fact of the matter is that he has to grow up off the football field. He had money that his meals should have been paid for.
"I put walk-ons on scholarships all the time. We have five guys on the team now who fall under that category. I repeat that I'll have no problem putting him on scholarship at midseason."