Saturday was not a good day for Cal football. The Bears fell to 0-2 with a 31-27 loss to Oregon State, and the New York Times ran a lenghty story regarding Cal’s handling of scholarship money to a player.
According to the New York Times story, Cal offensive lineman Henry Bazakas, who arrived at Cal as a walk-on but was granted a one-year scholarship for last season, opted out of the 2020 season this past June, starting a contentious episode regarding scholarship payments.
Bazakas was a fourth-year junior in 2019, when he started three games. He and other one-time walk-ons who were granted scholarships on a year-to-year basis then met with the Cal coaching staff after the season regarding the possibility of a scholarship for the 2020 season.
According to Cal, Bazakas was not told to expect a scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year, but Cal does not end scholarship payments in the middle of a term.
Bazakas began taking summer classes in May, then told Cal coaches in June he was opting out of the 2020 football season for health concerns related to COVID-19. He then received a bill dated July 1 saying he owed more than $24,000 in summer tuition and fees even though he had been given a scholarship.
Bazakas told the Times he had asked his coach several times over six months whether the scholarship would be renewed and did not get a firm answer. The decision came via email from the financial aid office on June 25, and Bazakas spent three months appealing before the decision was overturned.
The summer school aid was ultimately reinstated by a university appeals committee, which said the school had violated N.C.A.A. rules by abruptly pulling Bazakas’s aid before giving him an opportunity for a hearing.
Bazakas also asked for his scholarship back for the fall semester, but the appeals panel sided with the athletic department’s decision to not renew it. While most of his teammates arrived at Cal with scholarships pledged for four years, walk-ons, like Bazakas, who eventually earn scholarships may not get them in subsequent years, and Cal had met an N.C.A.A. deadline in July not to renew his.
“It feels like the second I was done playing football, the program was done with me,” said Bazakas, who waited nearly three months for his summer aid to be restored through appeal.
Cal claims the confusion about scholarship payments resulted from its reliance on a campus class calendar that stated summer classes started in July, which would have been after the decision was made not to give Bazakas a scholarship for 2020-21. In fact, however, Bazakas had begun classes in May, which means he should still have been on scholarship through the summer. When Cal realized the error, the scholarship money was provided.
One other excerpt from the Times story:
[Cal spokesman Herb] Benenson said the athletic department, even though it argued against Bazakas, agreed with the university’s decision to restore the player’s summer aid. Benenson said the aid was mistakenly canceled because of a clerical error that did not come to light until an inquiry by The New York Times in mid-October, a month after the committee’s ruling.
Cal provided two statements in response:
Cal head coach Justin Wilcox:
“Walk-ons are a very important part of our program at Cal and being able to grant a one-year scholarship is one of the best parts of the job. In each case, we are clear that the offers are for a year at a time and are dependent on the availability of scholarships, a number that varies from year to year. In Henry’s case, we enjoyed being able to provide him a scholarship for 2019-20, but I made no promises for a scholarship for 2020-21.”
Jay Larson, Cal senior associate athletic director, administration:
“We take pride in our adherence to NCAA, Pac-12 and institutional policies, and we regret the inadvertent error in cancelling Henry’s summer 2020 scholarship during the middle of the summer term. The initial cancellation of his summer aid, and the non-renewal of his aid for the 2020-21 year, were not based on Henry’s decision to not participate because of COVID-19 concerns.”
Here is the New York Times twitter reference to the story:
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