Provo, Utah — BYU cross country star Jared Ward's four-year battle with the NCAA, which the senior described as a “roller-coaster ride of emotions,” reached a happy ending on Thursday.
Ward's appeal to have his fourth season of eligibility reinstated was approved by the NCAA subcommittee for legislative review, meaning he is immediately eligible for competition and can compete in Friday's NCAA Mountain Region Championships in Riverdale near Weber State and, more importantly, next week's National Championships in Indiana.
He was ruled ineligible in 2010 for participating in a recreational race after returning from a two-year LDS mission in Pittsburgh and before officially enrolling at BYU.
It was a “fun run” that included participants ranging from ages 12 to 70, some of whom wore costumes. Runners were dressed in tuxedos, like birds, gorillas and in other outfits but the NCAA ruled upon receiving a questionnaire Ward filled out that it was an “organized competition” that gave him a “competitive advantage” and said he had utilized a season of collegiate competition.
That ruling was finally overturned.
“I am just excited,” Ward said. “I am grateful to the NCAA for reopening the case and am just excited to come back and play one more time.”
Ward, an All-American from Davis High who finished 14th at nationals last year, has stayed in shape this season despite having to watch from the sidelines. Without him, BYU's men's cross country team has soared to a No. 5 ranking in the country.
With him, the Cougars are now in the conversation to compete for a national title, coach Ed Eyestone said Thursday.
“I was ecstatic,” Eyestone said, finding out when athletic director Tom Holmoe pulled him out of a meeting Thursday morning. “He did a pretty good job keeping a straight face so I was prepared for the worst. But when I got a fist pump from him, I knew it was a good day. It has been a great day for BYU track and field and cross country.”
Ward said he is not bitter that the initial ruling cost him the majority of his senior season.
“The university and my coaches and teammates have been behind this all the way, and been so supportive” he said. “I don't feel like I have missed out on anything. I only feel like I just recently have gotten something back.”