BLACKSBURG — Don’t expect any sympathy for the NCAA from Brock Hoffman’s family.
The former Coastal Carolina lineman applied for a medical family hardship waiver in March to gain immediate eligibility at Virginia Tech. 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.
Hoffman’s mother Stephanie Hoffman had surgery to remove an acoustic neuroma (a non-cancerous brain tumor) in early 2017. Brock Hoffman is transferring to Virginia Tech to be closer to his home in Statesville, North Carolina.
The CBSSports.com story places much of the blame for the situation on Virginia Tech’s compliance department and describes an alternate route to eligibility for Hoffman if he files a separate waiver request under different guidelines.
While Hoffman’s father Brian acknowledges a second waiver request is possible, he doesn’t suddenly paint the NCAA in a positive light. Brian Hoffman described the impersonal, bureaucratic waiver process as one that’s left the family feeling emotionally drained and insulted.
Things came to a boil when the NCAA called Virginia Tech’s compliance department on Tuesday and explained one of the key reasons for rejecting Hoffman’s waiver request was that his mother’s condition was improving.
“Of course you get better after a brain tumor, if you don’t you die,” Brian Hoffman said. “Come on. My wife is completely deaf in her left ear. She can’t see out of her left eye. All that is after the surgery. From what I gather, and to Virginia Tech’s credit, their compliance guy went off on the NCAA a little bit because that comment.”
According to CBSSports.com, Virginia Tech is “unwittingly” filed a waiver request that “didn’t fit Hoffman’s circumstance.” The other reason the NCAA denied Hoffman’s waiver request is because a student-athlete has to be within 100-miles from their new school. Hoffman’s family lives 105 miles away from Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg.
“They (the NCAA) should have come back and said don’t fill that waiver out, do this waiver,” Brian Hoffman said. “The compliance guy at Virginia Tech has a case manager (with the NCAA). That case manager should have said wait a minute, this is the one to fill out.”
“Should Virginia Tech compliance known that (the 100-mile rule) as well? Probably, but I don’t know what training they have, the NCAA could have brought that up.”
For everyone involved, the documentation the Hoffman family put together made the medical hardship waiver seem like the obvious path. A spokesperson for Virginia Tech said the school can’t comment on the details of Hoffman’s waiver request or what type of guidance it offered the lineman citing federal privacy laws.
“When you are sitting in front of a compliance guy whipping out doctor’s notes explaining what has happened to your wife the last two and a half years, with photos, videos and X-rays, we all thought it was a slam-dunk, no one thought anything different,” Brian Hoffman said.
The Hoffman’s still believe their situation fits the criteria for a medical hardship waiver.
“I feel pretty hopeful on the appeal, if that doesn’t work we’ll go to a Plan B,” Brock Hoffman said, on Wednesday.
Brian Hoffman walked The Roanoke Times through the Plan B option on Wednesday night, which is likely to be a separate waiver request under the general guidelines that helped players like Justin Fields and Tate Martell gain immediate eligibility.
The NCAA made rule changes last April that loosened those guidelines for student-athletes transferring from one FBS school to another. The previous standard required student-athletes seeking a general waiver to prove “egregious behavior” by their previous school. The new standard is documenting “mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete's control."
Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia retired in January.
It’s the strategy Arkansas-based attorney Thomas Mars, who represented Shea Patterson and Justin Fields in their waiver requests, recommended when speaking to CBSSports.com. Calls to Mars went unreturned on Wednesday night. The Hoffman family has “informally” consulted with Mars, but hasn’t committed to hiring a lawyer.
Hoffman’s family is in a bit of a holding pattern as it looks for clarification on whether they can file an appeal and second waiver request at the same time.
One of Brian Hoffman’s many frustrations with the process is the challenge in getting direct answers from the NCAA due to the communications structure in place.
“The NCAA doesn’t talk to us directly,” Brian Hoffman said. “They have to go to compliance. We’ve not talked to Virginia Tech’s compliance. Compliance works through football operations.”
One silver lining for the family has been the public support they’ve received in the last 24 hours. Brock Hoffman, who is still finishing classes at Coastal Carolina, did four radio interviews on Wednesday and his initial tweet has drawn 14,000-plus retweets and 28,000-plus likes.
“I think all the attention on social media is going to help,” Brock Hoffman said.
Players from across the NFL and national sports broadcasters have asked the NCAA to reconsider its decision.
“Holy cow,” Brian Hoffman said. “Two million views (of the tweet). You look at that and say, ‘wow.’ People are taking notice. It was heartwarming to see the support from really all across the country.”