Akil Patterson has spent most of his adult life advocating for young people. Since coming out in 2010, he’s worked with young LGBTQ athletes as Athlete Ally’s Youth Programs director and is currently running for Baltimore City Council. And now, during the coronavirus pandemic, he wants to help student-athletes regain their lost semesters.
When the NCAA canceled all sports last month, it announced it would extend eligibility for spring-sport student-athletes, allowing them to compete for an additional season. Division 1 rules limit student-athletes to four seasons of competition in a five-year period. The same courtesy, however, was not extended to winter-sport student-athletes. For seniors, their campaigns will end without postseasons. Patterson wants to change that.
A former college football player at Maryland and Greco Roman Wrestler, Patterson says the postseason is everything — especially for athletes in non-revenue sports. Their athletic resumes are dependent on tournament wins, which can greatly dictate their earning potential as professionals. As a result, Patterson has launched a change.org petition asking the NCAA to give them their semester back. Under the proposal, winter-sport student-athletes would be eligible to play from January-May, the duration of spring semester. It would apply to all athletes, including men’s basketball players who didn’t enter the NBA Draft.
The petition currently boasts more than 7,500 signatures. It has a goal of 10,000.
“You get paid off of your notoriety. You earn your future living based off what you’ve done as an athlete,” Patterson told Outsports. “I don’t play my season to be a ‘nothing.’ You work for a championship.”
To expand on the financial argument, Patterson points to a tweet from Penn State wrestler Roman Bravo-Young, who was ranked No. 2 in the nation this season. When the NCAA announced it would not extend eligibility to winter athletes, he wrote: “What a joke. We just gave a free year of labor to the NCAA.”
What a joke. We just gave a free year of labor to the NCAA. https://t.co/cA4M1kEDqC— Roman Bravo-Young (@RomanBravoYoung) March 30, 2020
Patterson, who’s a member of Baltimore City’s LGBTQ Commission and was endorsed by Jason Collins for City Council, argues the students’ 14th Amendment rights were violated.
“Their right to due process was violated,” he said. “Instead of taking a period of time to figure out what COVID-19 would look like, the NCAA said, ‘Cancel it, you’re not getting (the season) back. You’re done.’”
While Patterson says some athletic directors and coaches with whom he’s spoken support the measure, he says the NCAA remains an obstacle. NCAA spokesperson Michelle Hosick told Outsports all three divisions declined to extend eligibility to winter-sport student-athletes and “have not reconsidered” their positions.
At the least, Patterson says he wants students to have their voices heard.
“(The NCAA is) worried about money,” Patterson said. “But this isn’t about money for any student-athletes. This is about their future. They’ve been denied their future. The NCAA has to respond to them.”