by Sami Spenner
February 8, 2014
Hello, my name is Sami Spenner and I am a track and field student-athlete at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. I specialize in the pentathlon, heptathlon, long jump and triple jump. This past week I competed in a pentathlon and ended up with a score of 4406. That is the best mark in the U.S. so far this season, it is currently the third best in the world, and it makes me only the 6th collegiate in the history of college track and field to obtain a score over 4400. This week (week of Feb 3rd) I was named the USTFCCCA Division I national female track and field athlete of the week, and makes me the 6th all-time pentathlete in collegiate history. But I’m not allowed to go to nationals according to the NCAA.
Since 2012 I have been kept out of the NCAA national track and field championships due to my school transitioning from Division II to Division I, rendering the school ineligible for post season competition for 4 years. This year being our third year transitioning, and me being a 5th year senior, I would graduate before my school is eligible for post season competition.
Last year I would have gone to nationals with my score of 4271, which was the second highest pentathlon score in Division I prior to the indoor championships. My coach and I tried to appeal the rule with the NCAA, but our waiver was declined saying that my situation lacked uniqueness. Saying that to be appealed I would have had to overcome an odd, or to have some unique situation. Apparently my situation wasn’t unique enough for them.
THIS IS MY STORY:
In the fall of 2009 I went to Wayne State College to play volleyball. Volleyball didn’t work out the way I wanted, so I decided to transfer to the University of Nebraska-Omaha where I wanted to pursue my Exercise Science degree. (UNO has an amazing Exercise Science program that you can earn your bachelors, masters, or doctorate degree.) When I initially transferred to UNO (which was a Division II school at the time) I didn’t have the intent on continuing my athletic career, but about a month and a half later I had the crazy idea of trying out for the track team. Here’s another unique fact; I had only competed in track my senior year of high school doing long, triple, 200 meter, and the 4×1 relay.
With some luck, my coach now accepted me onto the team where I competed the outdoor season of 2010 in long jump and triple jump. That summer, my coach kind of made a sarcastic remark that I should try my luck at the pentathlon/heptathlon. I had never high jumped, I had never hurdled, I had never thrown shot put or a javelin, and I had never run an 800. As luck would have it, in the spring of 2011 I qualified for Division II nationals in the heptathlon where I placed 5th, becoming a Division II All-American. I was ecstatic, until I realized it was the first and last time I was to go to nationals.
The next year we started our transition to Division I. Never in my WILDEST dreams did I think I would improve so much that I would one day be one of the best multi-event athletes in the country. Even without the goal of making it to nationals, I’ve worked my butt off to be where I am to show everyone that I still wanted to be the best. But I think I’ve sat out long enough watching championship after championship pass before my eyes without me being there.
The NCAA has completely eliminated my chances of earning the tremendous honor of becoming a Division I All-American, and maybe even a national champion. I’ll never know if they don’t let me in. My school transitioned, and I was made aware of the ramifications I faced if I were to stay. I had the option to transfer schools, but I would leave the coach that made me, leave my teammates who are my best friends, and on top of that I would be transferring schools because of athletics, putting my academics second. UNO had the degree I wanted, and I wasn’t about to throw away those credit hours. I earned a full ride scholarship, which didn’t guarantee I was going to get another full ride at another Division I school. Logistically speaking, it would have been idiotic for me to transfer to another school, JUST so I could go to nationals.
The NCAA’s Core Purpose and Value statement is as follows: “Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” They want me to be a STUDENT-ATHLETE, but their solution to my problem is to transfer schools and put my ATHLETICS before my ACADEMICS. That completely goes against what they are trying to do for us student-athletes.
I’m asking for your help in spreading my story so as many people as possible know what’s going on and maybe help me get to nationals this year in my final collegiate season. Then maybe someday my situation can help other track athletes who are only being hurt by ridiculous rules that are being set out by the NCAA.
If that isn’t a unique story, then I don’t know what is. I’m going to try and put in another waiver this year, but I don’t have high hopes. I don’t think the NCAA even read my story last year to be honest, so I’m hoping the more people that know, the more impact it can make. Please help not only me, but future athletes. I would tremendously appreciate anything at all.