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Provo • 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.
"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 went on a two-year LDS mission to Pittsburgh out of high school and returned in September of 2009, too late to enroll in school. Before entering BYU for the winter semester of 2010 he participated in a recreational race prior to a high school meet, a "fun run" that included participants ranging from ages 12 to 70.
He said some of the entrants wore costumes, others were dressed in tuxedos or like birds or gorillas. But the NCAA ruled upon receiving a questionnaire he filled out that it was an "organized competition" that gave Ward a "competitive advantage" and said he had utilized a season of collegiate competition.
That season was restored Thursday, after several appeals, but 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" Ward said. "I don't feel like I have missed out on anything. I only feel like I just recently have gotten something back."
Ward said he was especially grateful for BYU's compliance office for doggedly trying to get the NCAA to come to its senses. He also thanked his coaches, teammates, family and friends and wife for their support.
"I think the NCAA made a fair and a consistent decision, particularly in light of the recent developments," Eyestone said. "I am very happy with the NCAA. In fact, my faith is kind of renewed in the NCAA, because they took a difficult concept and they made the right call on this one. So, props to them."
Eyestone was referring to a recent case involving another returned LDS missionary, Nathan Harries, and Colgate University. Harries played three games in a church basketball league this past summer after returning from his mission, and the NCAA ruled him ineligible to play for Colgate this season.
However, it reversed its decision after media reports sparked a public outcry. In essence, the same thing happened in Ward's case.