Cameron Rodriguez won $20,000 for making a half-court shot during an Oklahoma City Thunder game last week. But he might not be able to keep the money because he is a basketball player at Southwestern College in Winfield.
Rodriguez and his school are asking the NAIA for a rules exception that would allow him to use the money as a scholarship to help pay his tuition.
“I didn’t really think about it at first because I was way too excited,” Rodriguez, 23, said. “After things settled down, I realized we might have an issue because I was receiving a large amount of money.”
The NAIA student guide says athletes cannot use their sports ability or fame for financial reward. John Leavens, the executive director of the NAIA Eligibility Center, said rulings on these cases typically take one to two weeks.
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“It would certainly hurt his cause if he had tried to circumvent the rules,” Leavens said in a telephone interview. “The fact that he connected with the right officials to make sure that he understood the proper application of the rule is something that we expect, and we’re glad to see.”
Ed Loeb, a Southwestern math professor and faculty athlete representative, said Rodriguez would have lost eligibility for at least a full academic year had he pocketed the money, but that there would have been no conflict if Rodriguez won the money in a non-basketball promotion, such as a long golf putt.
NCAA regulations also say athletes are ineligible if they use their skills in their particular sport for pay. The bylaws make an exception for prizes from promotions where contestants are chosen at random, as Rodriguez was, NCAA spokeswoman Emily James said in an email.
Rodriguez said he has a $4,000 athletic scholarship but pays roughly $33,000 per year for room, board, books and other fees.
If the NAIA says he can’t use the money as a scholarship, Rodriguez said, MidFirst Bank, the sponsor of the Thunder promotion, offered to donate it to a charity in his name. Rodriguez said he probably would choose between a non-profit set up to help the Southwestern basketball program, or a group through the Thunder’s work with local children — “a thank you for the opportunity and the experience,” he said.
Rodriguez, 6-foot-6, 210-pound sophomore from Elk City, Okla., hadn’t tried a half-court shot since high school before he won the contest.
“Shooting clutch free throws at the end of a game is hard to beat, but that’s the first time I’ve ever had almost 20,000 sets of eyes on me,” Rodriguez said. “In an NBA arena, it’s something else.”