The Bellarmine men’s basketball team continues to appeal for the chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Juston Betz wrote a letter to the NCAA to plea for the team’s chance to qualify and compete in next season’s tournament.
"There's nothing more powerful than a community of people fighting for what they know is right," Betz wrote in a letter he shared with The Courier Journal on Friday. "I just ask that the NCAA and all parties involved are also fighting for what is right, what is best for the student-athletes and participating Division I institutions. I truly believe there is no better time than now to reconsider a rule that was put into place over 25 years ago."
The Knights made national news in March when they won the ASUN Tournament championship, just two years after they made the leap from Division II to D-I. The ASUN champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. But a decades-old NCAA rule bars programs making such a jump from competing in the college spectacle for four years.
Betz states in the letter he has fielded numerous questions about why Bellarmine didn't qualify for the tournament — the Knights opted out of the postseason entirely, as well — and it frustrates him that he doesn't have a clear answer for fans.
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"'Why couldn't you all play in the NCAA Tournament? You earned it,'" he wrote. "'Has the NCAA given you a reason why things can't change?' There have been hundreds of interactions and questions just like this to which I have yet to formulate an accurate answer for."
He also acknowledged the team knew of the rule and the accompanying transition period, but pointed to conference and league oversight as well as Bellarmine's performance since moving up to Division I as evidence that the current circumstances make the rule obsolete.
"Can't we all agree times have changed?" Betz wrote. "Bellarmine University was invited by the ASUN to join the conference and is governed by said conference. We are also overseen by an NCAA transition agency that evaluates our progress and performance, and we have exceeded every benchmark that was placed upon our transition- especially academic excellence."
Betz said he grew up as a child of two University of Louisville graduates and how watching some of his favorite players like Francisco Garcia and Tyquan Dean inspired him to become a college basketball player. The first game he went to as a child was at Freedom Hall.
"I'm standing in Freedom Hall once again," Betz wrote, describing the team's ASUN championship. "Only this time, I'm at center court. I remember looking up toward my old seat in section 329, as close to the rafters as you can get. We were about to play for something that only 32 teams in the entire country get to play for: a conference tournament championship."
The feeling on Selection Sunday when the commentators talked about Bellarmine’s exclusion from the tournament was painful, he said.
“We were dreading the mundane sound of ‘Bellarmine isn’t eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament,’” Betz wrote. “It was a gut punch that we had no reason to be on the receiving end of.”
Betz thought using the letter to appeal to the NCAA could put a more human touch on the team's message and show how the rule was affecting the players in real time.
“Coach (Scott Davenport) and I were talking, and we agreed that it would be a good thing for the NCAA to hear from a student-athlete’s perspective,” Betz told The Courier Journal. “Sometimes, they don’t necessarily know how their decisions affect us. I thought it would be more powerful to speak from my end of things and express how not being in the NCAA Tournament affects not only myself but my teammates.”
Bellarmine filed a waiver with the NCAA, and the Board of Directors has until Aug. 3 to decide whether the Knights will be eligible for inclusion in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Betz hopes his letter connects emotionally with the decision makers and leads them to re-examine what the team considers an outdated rule.
“Any kid’s goal playing Division I basketball is to play in March Madness,” he said. “We made a historic run last year, and we weren’t rewarded accordingly for the success we had. I wish they would take another look at it and reconsider their initial reasoning for the rule.”
If the NCAA doesn't lift its requirements, Bellarmine has two years left in its transition period before they would be tournament eligible.
“Those players deserve it,” said Davenport, who added trying to appeal for the rule to be waived or overturned has consumed him. “I lay my head down every night, and I hope and dream that occurs because of the young people. This is four of the greatest years of these student-athletes’ life. This is about the players.”
Reach Jonathan Saxon at JSaxon@gannett.com or 502-715-1393 and follow him on Twitter at @TheSleepyScribe.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Bellarmine's Juston Betz writes letter pleading for rule change