When Leticia Romero first asked for her release more than two months ago, she had no idea she’d still be waiting for it today and in the fight of her life with the university she’s called home for the past year.
The All-Big 12 point guard has seemed to run out of conventional options when it comes to getting a release from Kansas State after the university’s statement Wednesday night that the appeals committee’s decision is “final and binding.”
Though K-State’s official stance is firm — case closed — Romero’s attorney, Donald Jackson, might just be getting started.
“I mean, there’s no justification for this,” he said Thursday. “At a certain point, common sense and decency has to set in with someone connected with this university. That’s nonsense about that committee being the final decision. That is absolutely false because that athletic director (John Currie) could solve this problem today — in five minutes.”
Jackson of the Sports Group in Montgomery, Ala., said the next step will be to contact the NCAA and seek a financial-aid waiver to allow Romero to attend another school and immediately receive an athletic scholarship.
Romero could enroll at any school of her choosing right now, but without a scholarship release from K-State, she wouldn’t be eligible to receive an athletic scholarship for the first year while she sits out due to NCAA transfer rules.
That’s a tricky situation for Romero, who says her family cannot afford expensive out-of-state tuition. And as an international student, she is not eligible for the same traditional financial aid American students typically receive.
Another option would be for Romero to file a lawsuit against the university.
“If there’s an abuse of discretion or a violation of a university or athletic regulatory agency’s own internal rules, then courts will intervene,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty clear that’s what we have going on here.
“This athletic director is creating a bigger problem for Kansas State than Leticia Romero. This will be much bigger than one student-athlete and that’s John Currie’s fault.”
One of the issues in play is what took place — or didn’t take place — during the appeals hearing itself, led by K-State vice president of student life Pat Bosco. The committee, “comprised of individuals from the institution’s main campus and outside of athletics,” according to the school’s student-athlete handbook, failed to record the session or produce a transcript, despite assurances that it would.
Romero asked to record the hearing and after being told she could, Sonia Topliff, who works in Bosco’s office, later told Romero, it wasn’t necessary because K-State would take care of it and make it available.
“You do not have to provide your own recording equipment,” Topliff wrote in e-mail to Romero the morning of her hearing that was obtained by The Mercury. “The university will record your meeting with the hearing panel and make it available to you upon your request.”
Romero never received an audio recording or a transcript like she requested.
“Is there a transcript of tape of the hearing? No,” Jackson said. “These people knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t want a record of it. They lied to her about recording and did not create a record of it — told her there was no copy.”
Using the same word Romero tossed out last month that first earned this story national headlines, Jackson said the treatment of his client by K-State amounts to blackmail.
“This is nothing more than an athletic director and a school’s administration using a committee to uphold what is essentially blackmail of a student-athlete,” said Jackson, who told The Mercury financial arrangements have been made by Romero and her family in exchange for his services. “She used that term, blackmail, and the athletic department was troubled by it. She’s an 18 year old. Well, I’m a 48-year-old attorney and I’m using it in a different context.
“This athletic director’s actions amount not only to blackmail in the context she used it, but quite frankly criminal blackmail because he is clearly aware that she is an international student, and under the terms of her student visa, she has to have either money in the bank, financial support or a scholarship to cover the cost of her education. If she does not have that, her status as an international student — with her visa — is now is jeopardy.
“You have an athletic director who is hanging this over her head — saying if you’re not going to stay here, we’re not going to let you have financial aid anywhere else. Tell me, that’s trying to coerce her into doing something, like ‘If you don’t do what I ask you to do, I’m going to damage you and punish you.’”
Romero initially presented a list of 94 schools to K-State that she had interest transferring to. Her first request was denied by Currie and the appeals committee upheld that decision shortly after, which according to K-State’s official statement on Wednesday can’t even be overturned by school administrators at this point.
“That is a flat-out lie,” Jackson said. “The ultimate decision-maker, as far as releases are concerned is the athletic director. If an athletic director denies a student-athlete’s release, the athlete as the right to appeal that to a committee. Generally, these committees are stacked on the side of the athletic department. The folks on these committees have no more interest student-athletes’ rights than I do learning how to flap my arms and fly.
“Having said that, even though the committee rules against her, the athletic director has the authority to release her right here, right now, today. This could be resolved in 45 seconds — the time it would take for him to type a letter that says Leticia Romero is released from her financial aid at Kansas State University. Its over.”
The entire story took an odd turn Thursday after Romero learned K-State granted Middle Tennessee State permission to contact her early that afternoon. Surprisingly, MTSU was on the list of 94 schools Romero had given to K-State two months ago, all of which had been denied contract rights to this point.
But within hours after MTSU contacted Romero, the school received another correspondence from K-State associate athletic director for compliance Lindsey Babcock informing it that the permission to contact had been retracted due to a “clerical error.”
Romero believes the error occurred when K-State realized Middle Tennessee State was on her initial list of schools she had interest in attending.
“K-State told me they couldn’t do anything with the schools on my list,” Romero said in an interview with The Mercury Thursday afternoon. “I think they released me to have contact with them and didn’t know they were on my list, but then found out and took it back.
“I thought if they could release me to one school on my list, there’s no reason to not release me to others. They did it. And that shows that they can do it — they just don’t want to.”
But after some research, Middle Tennessee State officials discovered once a release to contact is given to a school, it couldn’t be retracted.
“I just talked to Middle Tennessee,” Romero said in a text Thursday night. “They can contact me because they called the NCAA and the NCAA said once you give permission you can’t take it back.”
Romero was also released to a pair of low-majors recently — not on her list — and according to Jackson, has no desire to transfer within the Big 12 or attend Northern Colorado where the former K-State coaching staff is now employed.
“They are playing games with Leticia and with Middle Tennessee State over this,” Jackson said. “Seriously. What professional does things like that? This is an athletic department that’s being run by third graders. Their actions are as unethical and unprofessional as anything I’ve ever seen from a college athletic department and I’ve seen a lot.”