I wrote a story for ESPNW this week on women’s basketball player Leticia Romero, who has been denied a release from Kansas State. Several readers have asked about the details of the appeals process. In an interview in late April, Romero explained that to me.
Coach Deb Patterson’s firing was announced on March 9, and new coach Jeff Mittie was hired March 18. Romero participated in some team workouts with Mittie, but said she then realized she didn’t want to stay at Kansas State.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t like him,” Romero said. “But I felt like all my teammates were happy and adjusting to the change, and I wasn’t. I felt like I wasn’t being honest with the team, with coach Mittie, with myself.”
Romero said she talked with Mittie about transferring, and then she spoke with K-State’s associate athletic director for compliance, Lindsey Babcock, about obtaining a release from her scholarship. Later, Babcock summoned Romero to tell her that the release had been denied by the Kansas State athletic department.
I asked Romero if athletic director John Currie had told her any reasons for denying the transfer. She said she had not met with Currie.
According to Romero, Babcock offered two options. Romero could stay for another year at K-State, and then if she still wanted to leave, she would be given the release. Or she could ask for an appeal hearing, which would be in front of an ad-hoc committee separate from the athletic department and chaired by Kansas State vice president for student life, Pat Bosco.
After long-distance consulting with her parents back home in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Romero decided to appeal. Then she said some of the K-State student managers, who were friends of hers, told her that Mittie had said that student-athletes didn’t win appeals very often at K-State.
In subsequent interviews with the “Manhattan Mercury” and “Topeka Capital-Journal” newspapers before the appeal, Romero said the whole situation felt like “blackmail.” Romero later explained to me why she talked to the media before the appeal hearing. She was worried, after hearing what Mittie had said, about whether the process was truly “independent” of the athletic department.
Romero was given two days’ notice before the appeal hearing. She asked if it would be recorded. First, she was told via email that she’d need to bring her own recording equipment. A follow-up email said the university would record the hearing. She subsequently asked for an audio copy of the hearing to send to her parents, but was told she would need to come into the compliance office to hear it.
As for guidance about what to say at the hearing, Romero didn’t have much time to look for that. She went through the process alone.
“They said I could have a person with me at the hearing,” Romero said. “I didn’t take anyone with me. I didn’t have anybody. I would have loved to have had my parents there, but they wouldn’t have been able to get here.”
Romero has immersed herself in English since arriving at K-State last August. She speaks and understands English well. That said, I knew she had been speaking English regularly only since coming to K-State. So I asked her, considering the gravity of the hearing, if she would have been more comfortable to have at least one Spanish-speaking person at the appeal. Just in case there were any questions for which she might have needed clarification.
“A translator would have been awesome, but I didn’t ask for one,” she said. “Since I didn’t say anything, I think it was OK. But that’s why I wrote things down first, too; I didn’t just go there and say things.”
Romero said the committee asked her to explain why she wished to transfer.
“I wanted to talk about the whole process for me since the coaching change,” she said. “How I first felt so by myself, because I came here for the coaches, and then there was the period of not knowing who was going to be the coach. I told them it wasn’t just one reason, but at the end, it was just because of my feelings. I didn’t see myself there for three more years.”
The hearing was April 16. She received an email the next day saying her appeal had been denied. The email offered no explanation of the decision, saying it was final. I asked her if she subsequently had asked the committee for its reasons.
“I don’t know how all this works, so I don’t know if I can do that,” Romero said. “Can I go to them and say, ‘I want to know why?’ ”
I contacted the NCAA about this. NCAA bylaws say that in the case of an appeal hearing about a transfer, “The institution shall conduct the hearing and provide written results of the hearing to the student-athlete.”
Technically, then, did an e-mail saying, “Your appeal is denied,” fit the standard of providing written results? I asked the NCAA about that, but have yet to hear back.
Then I emailed Bosco to ask if the school had considered having someone in the hearing who was fluent in Spanish, considering the student-athlete involved had only been living in an English-speaking country for less than a year. I also asked why Kansas State did not list any reasons for why the appeal was denied.
Bosco answered that he could not comment other than to say, “The university appeal process as outlined in the student-athletic handbook provides the student-athlete the opportunity to bring others with them to a hearing. It is on-line.”