Leticia Romero may not have her release from Kansas State — just yet — but the All-Big 12 point guard does have an advocate in Jay Bilas.
The ESPN college basketball analyst has been the most vocal among national media against K-State’s decision not to release the talented freshman from her scholarship — taking to Twitter the past 10 days with numerous comments directed at the university, athletic director John Currie and school president Kirk Schulz.
Romero lost her latest bid for a release with a university appeals committee on April 16. She has sought her release from K-State following the dismissal of head coach Deb Patterson and her staff, which recruited Romero from Las Palmas, Spain.
Yet, K-State has held firm in its decision to prevent Romero from transferring, leaving the talented guard in limbo with very few options going forward.
“There’s a real concern here, given the rhetoric of this enterprise, of college athletics, that they’re amateurs, not employees, this is an avocation, just for fun and voluntary — all this crap that they spew out,” Bilas said in an interview with The Mercury on Friday. “Then a young lady who played an entire season, was the leading scorer, rebounder, assist person and steals person, and did her duty on a one-year renewable scholarship, all of a sudden won’t be allowed to leave and can’t go where she wants.
“I think if you look at what the NCAA and the member institutions say, ‘they’re students first and they should be treated like any other student.’ She’s not being treated like any other student. Every other student is allowed to leave when they choose… That’s just not right and I’ll never think its right.”
According to K-State’s student-athlete handbook, “except for the most compelling of circumstances which place an undue burden on the student athlete, it is the policy of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics not to grant a release for purposes of a transfer or provide the one-time transfer exception.”
Had K-State granted the release, it could have blocked Romero from attending any number of schools of its choice, the most common being within the conference, programs that fall in the Wildcats’ recruiting footprint and any possible future opponents.
Without the release, however, Romero is prohibited from having any contact with coaches from other schools. That makes transferring for basketball much more difficult because Romero would have to enroll in another school as a student, not knowing if there was a spot for her on the basketball team, and then pay expensive out-of-state tuition for the year she has to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.
Because Romero is from Spain, she’s not eligible for federal financial aid, like a student loan. Another option would be to enroll at a junior college.
“It’s not like Kansas State is saying, ‘you can go to any school, but this one,’” Bilas said. “They’re taking all 351 Division-I institutions out of it.
“That’s just wrong.”
While K-State isn’t allowed to specifically comment on the matter due to student privacy laws, Currie posted a series of tweets this past Tuesday that shed some light on the reasons behind K-State’s insistence to deny Romero’s release.
“National transfer issues are complex/need reform,” Currie tweeted. “Student privacy prevents discussion of individual student issues. As AD I have an obligation to all our (student-athletes) and institution to ensure department and university procedures are followed.
“Generally speaking, on RARE occasions that we have denied a student-athlete transfer release, it has been because of concerns about outside tampering, undue influence by third parties or procedures not being followed in an honest and forthright manner.”
Currie didn’t specifically name names, but his tweets would imply that the former coaching staff has had a hand in Romero’s decision to leave K-State, which could qualify as tampering.
“So, he basically told everybody exactly what this is about and then claimed privacy concerns so he couldn’t tell anybody anything more than that,” Bilas said. “That’s disingenuous and wrong. That’s a smear.
“And I don’t know if (tampering) is going on or not, but what I do know is that hanging out there now is the implication that all of the coaches may be involved in this and that Leticia Romero may be lying. That’s just flat-out wrong and that’s John Currie’s fault… For him to say what he said publicly is wrong. It is absolutely wrong.”
Bilas does not approve of tampering, if that’s what is going on, but said right now it’s just an allegation.
“Right now, it’s just an allegation that hasn’t been proven,” he said. “Nobody forced John Currie to put that out on twitter. And they don’t have to prove anything. What he said was a flat-out smear. What other explanation could there be?
“If there is wrongdoing on the part of the coach or coaches, then that shouldn’t affect the player. If they feel (Romero) is being tampered with, all you need to do is turn in the alleged tamperer and let her go. This isn’t that hard.”
Bilas, however, raised questions regarding what tampering really is at the college level.
“I don’t care if there was incredible amount of tampering or not, because first of all, I would ask the question, how do you tamper with an unpaid, amateur student?” he said. “How do you do that?
“If Leticia is happy, why would she be subject to tampering? She would just say, ‘look, I’m happy here, I’m staying.’ But they fired her coach and she wants to leave. That’s not some crazy nut-job response.”
For a moment, assuming K-State’s notion that a former coach or coaches are using Romero to get new jobs, Bilas pointed to a similar situation that occurred at K-State when Bob Huggins left after one season, but had signed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class with then-assistant coaches Frank Martin and Dalonte Hill, who was the program’s top recruiter at the time and had ties with Michael Beasley.
There was some thought the recruiting class that included Beasley, Jacob Pullen and Jamar Samuels might try to get out of the letters of intent signed under Huggins. That was, until Martin was named K-State’s head coach and Hill became one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the country because of his strong AAU ties.
“I’m not comparing cases at all, but you could make the same claim that a coach was using Michael Beasley to leverage a job,” Bilas said. “I don’t remember a whole lot of people jumping up and down about that one. All of sudden protecting the enterprise is a lot more important. People recognize contradictions and hypocrisy when they see it. We’re seeing it.”
Currie also tweeted Tuesday that he was looking forward to visiting with Bilas, who earlier in the morning tweeted, “Good for K-State recruits to note — KSU handbook says it will deny most transfers. EWAH — Every Wildcat A Hostage?”
Bilas and Currie did talk, but the two didn’t reach much of an understanding.
“It did not go well,” Bilas said. “He didn’t say anything. He put out on twitter that he wanted to discuss transfer policy — he did not do that. And he would not discuss anything having to do with the Romero case. That’s fine. He’s a very nice man and I enjoyed meeting him, but nothing worthwhile came out of our discussion.
“And I didn’t put out that I was going to talk with him — he did. And then he said absolutely nothing.”
Bilas has also spoken with Romero, who reached out to him in the past week.
“I don’t normally talk to the athletes, but she was very nice and claims that there has been no tampering or anything like that,” he said. “She doesn’t want to do anything that is going to cause anyone any trouble. She just wants to leave. I don’t see the problem here.
“It’s like the old line, ‘she’s just not that into you.’”
Bilas has especially taken issue with K-State’s transfer policy that’s outlined in the student-athlete handbook.
“I think it makes them look silly, petty and vindictive, and it also puts them in a bad spot because first of all they have in their handbook that they rarely grant a transfer absent undue burden on the athlete, whatever that means,” Bilas said, “and then John Currie tweets out that they rarely deny (transfers) except in instances of tampering, undue influence of a third party or dishonesty by the athlete in the process.
“Why do your policies conflict, saying we never grant (releases), absent undue burden, and then the athletic director says we always grant them, except for this? And a student-athlete, especially one from a foreign country is supposed to navigate that?”
So where does Romero go from here?
“There are a few things she can do,” Bilas said. “One, she can retain a lawyer and I do think there are lawyers who would take this pro bono.
“The second thing she can do is waive her privacy rights so that the Kansas State athletic department can be put on the spot to reveal what this is about and be tested, so then we could determine what everybody is talking about. Absent that, I don’t think there’s a whole lot that she can do now.”