Zachary Hoover is exactly the kind of person that universities hope to find in their student-athletes.
Hoover, a cross country and track athlete at the University of St. Francis, excels in the classroom, routinely earning a place on the CCAC's All-Academic list and has often found himself on the school's Dean's List.
For all intents and purposes, Hoover should be entering his senior season of cross country in the fall with his eye on helping his cross country squad reach the National Championship and hoping to improve on his 68th place finish in the event as a junior.
But as things currently stand, Hoover will not be getting that chance as he's been suspended from participation in his senior cross country season by the NAIA, the collegiate athletic affiliation of which the Saints are a member of, because of a rule infraction regarding his class schedule from the fall semester in 2019.
The infraction involved Hoover's course selections from that semester. One of Hoover's classes was deemed a duplicate class by St. Francis. A duplicate class is qualified as a class a student has already taken and received academic credit for.
Hoover needed to take a minimum of 12 credit hours to maintain his eligibility as an athlete at St. Francis. And since he arrived at St. Francis with a substantial amount of transferable credits from the high school level, his credit allotment allowed for little leeway in regards to that 12 credit hours. Without credit for the duplicate class, Hoover slid underneath the requirement of credit hours required to maintain his athletic eligibility.
When the scheduling error was found, St. Francis self-reported the violation to the NAIA, the collegiate athletic affiliation of which the Saints are a member of. The NAIA ruling was that St. Francis must forfeit all of the meets that Hoover participated in, which included the school's 10th place finish in the national meet. In addition, Hoover would be forced to forfeit his next year of eligibility for cross country. By the ruling, as the upcoming season would be his senior season, Hoover's cross country eligibility would effectively be over.
Most eligibility cases involve a student-athlete failing to meet grade standards, and while this case certainly doesn't apply on those grounds, Hoover's case takes a strange turn when the circumstances of his case are put under the microscope.
According to Hoover, the duplicate course that he took was taken under the advisement of his academic adviser, Jessica Monu. Monu also taught the course both the first and second time Hoover took the class, Hoover said, and hat was the first step in the process that broke down for Hoover.
"When I walked in to be advised, it had pretty much already been decided what my major courses are going to be and I trust that is right," Hoover said. "I just trusted that I was being put in the right stuff, but I guess not."
The class in question that was deemed a duplicated course had a different class title, a different textbook and a different assignment work according to Hoover.
"I had no idea that it was the same course," Hoover said. "I never thought that at any time. The majority of my major courses do have a little bit of overlap, but it was never enough for me to have red flags. Never did I think that this was the same exact class."
According to Hoover's representative, Jason Setchen, computer fail safes in the school's registration program also did not pick up the conflict due to some filters in the system being set incorrectly.
"It's been really hard," Hoover said. "Normally during the summer I'm dreaming of nationals and getting All-American and reaching all of my goals. And then I think of this, I might not get the opportunity to finish a career that has been 10 years in the making going on 11 and its going to end with this."
Setchen, a Florida-based attorney who specializes in advocacy for professional and NCAA student-athletes, has taken on Hoover's cause to try to get some relief to the punishment levied against him.
"The problem is that the NAIA is refusing to look at mitigating factors and consider what is in the best interest of the student athlete and what is fair," Setchen said. "Instead, they are kind of taking kind of a draconian approach to the purported violation, it is debatable whether a violation even occurred because the courses were different enough that they could have been determined to be two separate courses. It was the school's responsibility to identify that and properly advise and oversee the student athlete. I don't believe they made any kind of intentional error, it is just a case of misadvisement.
"I do have ongoing discussions with the NAIA and my hope remains that there are people within the organization that are going to recognize the inherent unfairness in this situation and that they are going to intervene on behalf of the student athlete. There are circumstances that just demand that they look at the entirety of this circumstance. Our endgame is to see Zach get an opportunity to compete and not to sue somebody. We certainly have that option, but that's not our goal."
The University of St. Francis declined comment on Hoover's situation.