Earlier this year, an Alabama high school basketball star sued the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) over her one-season suspension imposed for receiving improper monetary payments. However, this is not a story of illicit or illegal money being paid by corrupt coaching assistants like we have seen in the FBI investigation of “pay for play” schemes in college basketball. Instead, this seems to be a perfect storm of innocent mistakes that may cost Ms. Maori Davenport an opportunity to play out her senior year. AL.com has done a terrific job in covering the story, which you can read about here.
Ms. Maori Davenport is an exceptional basketball player at Charles Henderson High School in Troy, Alabama. She has signed to play with Rutgers next year. In the summer of 2018, Maori played for the U18 Team USA basketball team in an international tournament in Mexico City. That November, Maori received a check from USA basketball for $857.20 for her participation in the tournament. The amateurism rule in the AHSAA handbook prohibits high school players from being paid in this way, and the punishment is a mandatory one-season suspension. The Executive Director of the AHSAA, Steve Savarese, has stated that he has no discretion to issue a less severe punishment.
Team USA basketball has admitted that it sent the check to Maori in error and that she did not seek or request the payment. As soon as the Davenport family realized the payment violated the AHSAA rules, they refunded the money completely to Team USA. It did not matter, however, and the AHSAA imposed its one-season suspension against Davenport.
On January 11, 2019, Davenport filed a lawsuit against AHSAA and Steve Savarese, including a request for a temporary order to allow Davenport to play immediately. Pike County Circuit Judge, Sonny Reagan agreed with the Davenport’s request for a temporary order and permitted Maori to play immediately; she scored 25 points in her debut after missing 16 games.
The case has garnered national attention from professional basketball stars like Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. EPSN analyst Jay Bilas has been critical of the way the AHSAA and Mr. Savarese handled the matter as well.
The AHSAA has responded partially and requested that the case be moved to Montgomery County or that the case be dismissed. The AHSAA argues that their participation agreement, which is signed by the Davenports, requires all legal action to be filed in Montgomery County (where the AHSAA is located). A hearing on that argument originally scheduled for January 22 has been reset to February 22, just days before the start of the state tournament in Birmingham on February 25. Until then, Maori Davenport will continue to play under Judge Reagan’s temporary order.
Should Maori Davenport be punished for Team USA’s mistake? We’d love to hear feedback from you on this interesting story.