Barring an unexpected reprieve, Cydonie Mothersill, the George Mason University women's track and field team's outstanding sprinter, will compete in a 4x100-meter semifinal at the NCAA championships today in Boise, Idaho, and then become academically ineligible to participate further in the meet.
Mothersill, a junior, has qualified to compete in two other events, but she likely will become ineligible at midnight tonight under George Mason's academic eligibility rules, which significantly exceed the NCAA's standards. Mothersill has appealed her grade in a six-credit English course, and if the grade is changed, she would remain eligible through the meet.
Mothersill said in a telephone interview late Sunday night she was still hopeful of maintaining her eligibility, but interim coach Nena Rogers said the appeal's chance of success is "extremely slim. . . . I'm not hopeful at all."
However, meet rules allow substitutions on relay teams between rounds of competition. As a result, George Mason athletic administrators have allowed Mothersill to anchor the 4x100-meter relay team today even though she probably will be unable to compete if the team advances to Friday's final -- an achievement that gives all members of the team all-American status. The Patriots have one of the nation's fastest collegiate times in the event this season, but, "We probably would not make it to the [final] without Cydonie," Rogers said.
This has been a difficult spring for Mothersill and the Patriots women's team. Two coaches were fired and three runners were declared ineligible following the discovery of NCAA rules violations. Mothersill suffered from an unusually slow heartbeat earlier this spring, but after undergoing a surgical procedure, she qualified for the NCAA meet in the 4x400 relay -- the semifinals of which are Thursday -- and the 200 meters.
Mothersill has the fifth-fastest collegiate time this season in the 200, the preliminary rounds of which are tonight. But George Mason officials will not decide whether to allow her to compete in that event until shortly before her preliminary-round heat, which is scheduled to begin at about 9:50 EDT. If Mothersill's grade is not changed by then, George Mason officials said they do not want her to potentially deprive another competitor of the ability to advance to a round for which Mothersill would be ineligible; the 200 semifinals are Friday night and the final is Saturday night.
The semifinals of the 4x400 relay, in which the Patriots have the fourth-fastest collegiate time this season, will not be held until Thursday night. (Two of the three George Mason men's athletes who had qualified for the championships -- sophomore Dwayne Miller, in the 400 meters, and junior Adrian Cumberbatch in the long jump -- did not make the trip to Boise because they also become academically ineligible Thursday, the same day competition in their events begins.)
"This is an institutional issue, not an NCAA issue," George Mason Athletic Director Tom O'Connor said. "I feel comfortable that we have empathy for student-athletes. [Mothersill] is eligible to compete [today] and we'll go by what [the policy] says on the date."
If Mothersill does not win her appeal, she will be allowed to remain in Boise for the remainder of the meet, O'Connor said.
Mothersill, an English major, said she has a 2.5 cumulative grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale). But, unlike most Division I schools, which use cumulative GPAs to determine eligibility, George Mason determines eligibility on a term-by-term basis, senior associate athletic director Sue Collins said. A student whose GPA is below 2.0 in any term is placed on academic warning; a student placed on academic warning twice within four terms, as happened with Mothersill, goes on academic probation.
Students on academic probation become ineligible for extracurricular activities on the 15th day after final exams end. Eleven days ago, at the ECAC championships, Mothersill won the 100 and 200 and anchored the winning 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams -- a major reason the Patriots gained a one-point victory over Pittsburgh for their sixth straight ECAC team title.