Brock Hoffman

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech transfer Brock Hoffman didn’t hire a lawyer to help guide him through the NCAA waiver process. The former Coastal Carolina lineman applied for a medical family hardship waiver in March to gain immediate eligibility at his new school.

It’s a decision he now thinks might have been a mistake.

“I haven’t gone a day thinking I wouldn’t be eligible until today,” Hoffman said. “I thought it was an open-and-shut case. I guess I was a little naive.”

Hoffman isn’t alone.

Virginia Tech’s coaching staff and compliance department all thought Hoffman was a textbook example for why the medical hardship waiver exists. Hoffman’s mother Stephanie Hoffman had surgery to remove an acoustic neuroma (a non-cancerous brain tumor) in early 2017. He's transferring to Virginia Tech to be closer to his home in Statesville, North Carolina. 

The NCAA rules require non-graduate transfer players to sit out a year if they go to another FBS school unless a waiver is granted. 

According to Hoffman, his mother still suffers from lingering side effects including facial paralysis on her left side, hearing loss and impaired eyesight.

“If he doesn’t fit the criteria, who would?” one source with knowledge of Hoffman’s situation told The Roanoke Times last month.

It’s why Hoffman was shocked on Tuesday when Virginia Tech offensive line coach Vance Vice called to tell him the NCAA had denied his waiver request. Hoffman is appealing the decision — the NCAA said it will make a decision in a week — but the organization’s initial ruling left the offensive lineman heartbroken.

“When I called my mom and she is in tears, that hurt me the most,” Hoffman said. “You feel hopeless in a way.”

‘This was real’

The reaction to Hoffman’s announcement that the NCAA denied his waiver request was met with outrage on social media.

Fans pointed to recent high-profile transfers Justin Fields and Tate Martell gaining immediate eligibility. Fields went from Georgia to Ohio State while Martell left OSU for Miami, but as Hoffman ironically notes they applied for a different type of NCAA waiver, one he could have also pursued.

While Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia, who recruited Hoffman, stepped down in January, the lineman decided to apply for the medical hardship waiver instead.

“It kind of gets on my nerves,” Hoffman said. “They did the coaching change waiver and that stuff, I could have applied for that too, but I thought this was real, the medical hardship waiver literally fits my situation.”

The NCAA made changes last April that loosened the guidelines to the transfer process for Division 1 athletes, but those didn’t apply to the medical hardship waiver. The previous standard required student-athletes seeking a general waiver required them to prove “egregious behavior” by their previous school for a transfer waiver. This helped student-athletes like Fields and Martell, but not Hoffman.

Inside the process

Hoffman and his family spent weeks gathering as much information as they could in hopes of providing the NCAA a comprehensive look at their family’s situation.

That included the photos Hoffman shared on social media Tuesday night — an x-ray showing the large tumor in his mother’s brain and a picture showing the aftermath of the 17-hour surgery. She has tubes running from her nose and neck with multiple surgical scars.

“We wanted to get them as much information as possible to show how real this was to me and my family,” Hoffman said.

While Hoffman gathered all the documentation, Virginia Tech’s compliance department submits the actual request to the NCAA.

The NCAA had follow-up questions for Hoffman a few weeks later - how often would you be able to take care of your mom during the season? How much easier would it be for your family to get to games? They also wanted a chronological timeline of events from his mother’s initial diagnosis to her surgery and all her doctor appointments.

Not once did the process involve Hoffman talking to an actual person. That remained true on Tuesday when it was left to Vice to share the news and share what the NCAA told the athletic department’s compliance department.

According to Hoffman, the NCAA cited two main reasons in denying the appeal — Hoffman’s house fell five miles outside the 100-mile radius allowed for medical hardship waivers and his mother’s condition had improved.

Hoffman, who has visited his family more than a half dozen times this semester while finishing up classes at Coastal Carolina said attending Virginia Tech will cut what was a four-hour plus commute for his family to less than two hours.

As for his mother’s condition, Hoffman admits his mother has improved since her surgery two years ago, but “she’s never going to be 100 percent again.”

 “I need to be there for her and I want to make it easier for her to come see me play,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman thought about transferring at the time of his mother's diagnosis, but the timing of it— doctors didn't find the tumor until the week before he was set to join Coastal Carolina as an early enrollee — left him few options.

“I wanted to stick with my commitment," Hoffman said. “It was pretty rough, I was struggling adjusting to school and my mom having life-threatening surgery. I was trying to be there for her as much as I could. We just kind of dealt with it. We got through that semester, just kind of plugging along.”

Hoffman finishes his coursework at Coastal Carolina on May 3 and will enroll at Virginia Tech on May 24 regardless of the outcome of his appeal. The family does plan on hiring an attorney if the appeal is denied, but Hoffman is trying to stay optimistic.

“Coach Vice told me to prepare like I’m going to be eligible,” Hoffman said. “We are still going to rock and roll.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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