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Thomas Kithier and the hypocrisy of the student athlete

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MSU basketball recruit Thomas Kithier won’t play this year, but don’t worry, it’s for his own good...

@ThomasKithier/Twitter

Attacking the idea of the “student athlete” is pretty much low hanging fruit at this point. Whether or not you personally believe college athletes should be paid, hint: they should, is just part of the many problems of the NCAA.

But it’s not the NCAA preventing Thomas Kithier from playing basketball during what would be his senior year. The Michigan High School Athletic Association has deemed Kithier ineligible this season. But that’s ok, because it’s all for the greater good of the “student athlete.”

Kithier, a MSU signee and three-star recruit, is one of the best players in Michigan and has a set of skills that grabbed the attention of multiple college programs. Heading into his senior season, Kithier and his family decided he would transfer from Macomb Dakota to Clarkston.

That’s when the adults decided they needed to step in.

Officials at Dakota decided not only that they wouldn’t sign Kithier’s academic transfer papers, but they would file a complaint with the MHSAA. After an investigation, the MHSAA decided the transfer was “athletically motivated.” Kithier was suspended for the entire season and his subsequent appeal was denied.

By the letter of the law, it’s hard to argue against the ruling. Kithier transferred to a school which already held a player, Foster Loyer, whom Kithier played with on an AAU team. Both players will make the move to East Lansing next year. According to Geoff Kimmerly, media content coordinator of the MHSAA, this would fit one of the qualifications for an athletically motivated transfer.

“Our executive director ruled that yes, there is enough evidence here that this is an athletic motivated transfer,” Kimmerly said to Al Martin on his show Current Sports. “It is clearly is spelled out in our rule what is required to make that allegation stick. So in addition to being ineligible for the first six months of the school year, the penalty for that athletic motivated transfer is a full year suspension and that is what is handed down from this office.”

MSU head coach Tom Izzo called it a “sad” situation. Izzo also took part of the blame, saying Kithier was initially considering transferring out of state, but MSU asked him to reconsider staying in Michigan. This was out of “my love for the state,” Izzo said earlier this week. Making things more difficult, Kithier decided to then transfer to Clarkston, where Dan Fife is the head coach. Fife is the father of longtime MSU assistant Dane Fife.

Izzo insisted that his program had nothing to do with Kithier picking Clarkston. The MHSAA ruled that Fife and Clarkston were not at fault in any way for illegal recruiting.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that this is all true. Kithier made the decision all on his own and is now getting punished. That begs the simple question, who was hurt by all of this?

Dakota was seemingly losing Kithier regardless. So the offense was the player was moving just a few miles as opposed to a different state? The complaint feels more like sour grapes than anything remotely involving concern for Kithier or any other student athlete. Dakota and the MHSAA appear to be of the opinion that Michigan high school basketball is better off without one of the state’s best players.

The concern is obvious, even if unfounded. The boogeyman of high school athletes acting as “free agents,” playing for the school that gives them the best chance to win and ruining competitive balance. Clarkston, already a favorite to repeat as state champions, would be far too dominant with the addition of Kithier. Oh No!!

There are other rules in place to prevent the idea of high school free agency. Players have to live in specific districts, and even then a move to a new district has to fit other qualifications. But because the MHSAA has decided they know what the motivating factor was in an 18-year-old uprooting and moving to a new school, he’s not allowed to play basketball this year.

Kithier will head to Michigan State next year even if he doesn’t play. But obviously he will be at a disadvantage after missing this time on the court, even if MSU tries to step in and get him into the program early. But again, it’s in his best interest to be suspended, just ask the MHSAA.

There have to be penalties for students and programs that break rules, of course, but there should be a victim from one of these rules being broken. In this case, it appears the only thing hurt is the egos of the adults making decisions.

Instead, a student athlete, who will be under scholarship next year for his ability to play basketball, isn’t allowed to play basketball in high school. But again, it’s what’s best for him, just ask everyone else.