A misunderstanding earlier this fall involving NCAA eligibility interrupted a homeschooled graduate’s college soccer career and could have cost him a scholarship.

Bowen McCloud, a freshman at the University of Tulsa, had to sit out of team activities for a couple of weeks in September while he and his mother Jacqueline sorted out a misunderstanding with the NCAA. The organization questioned whether Bowen’s high school education program had sufficient parental involvement to be classified as homeschooling.

Jacqueline said the news came as a shock.

“I knew Bowen had worked so hard for this, and I felt so horrible,” she said.

Family Tradition

Like his siblings, Bowen began homeschooling in kindergarten. He graduated from high school in May.

Another trait Bowen shares with most of his family is a passion for soccer. Bowen’s father, Blair, played soccer on a team representing the US Army while he was stationed in Germany. Bowen’s two oldest brothers are involved with professional teams in the National Independent Soccer Association. Both hope to play at a higher tier of professional competition.

Bowen himself played soccer with youth clubs associated with two Major League Soccer teams, Chicago Fire FC and FC Dallas. The teams were strictly amateur but provided the teen with the chance for sports-related travel and a challenging level of play. Road games took Bowen and the club teams to Canada, Mexico, and Poland.

The teen’s homeschool program provided the flexibility for him to focus on athletics. Working under the guidance of his mother, Bowen did much of his coursework via computer-based curriculum.

This arrangement is what ultimately caused the misunderstanding with the NCAA.

Answering Questions

Bowen was still a junior in high school when he accepted a major scholarship to play soccer for Tulsa. So Jacqueline started the process of providing Bowen’s documentation to the NCAA well before he enrolled as a student this fall.

Confusion arose because, while Bowen’s curriculum provider  offers a program that is NCAA-approved, Bowen was not using this curriculum.  Rather, he was taking other online courses from the same provider. This led to a misunderstanding that he was receiving instruction from outside his family and not a homeschool program. NCAA officials wanted to ensure that Bowen’s parents were still considered primarily responsible for guiding Bowen’s education.

Jacqueline said she was taken aback by the question of her and her husband’s involvement in Bowen’s schooling.

“Our life is just breathing homeschooling,” she said. “It’s so ingrained in our family that it’s instinctual.”

Jacqueline contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for help in sorting out the situationif Bowen was disqualified by the NCAA, he wouldn’t be able to play on the team and would lose his scholarship.

Back on the Field

HSLDA Senior Counsel Tj Schmidt worked with a contact at the NCAA eligibility center to determine the source of the discrepancy and how Jacqueline could correct it. He also assured officials that Bowen’s parents did indeed oversee and interact with their son every day in his homeschool studies.

“I showed that they were ultimately responsible for their son’s education,” said Schmidt.

Once Jacqueline provided the homeschool documentation the NCAA requested, Bowen was approved to participate fully with the Tulsa soccer team. He was back in the starting lineup for the match against Florida Atlantic in September, where he scored his first collegiate goal off a corner kick.

“I just can’t thank HSLDA and Tj enough,” said Jacqueline. “He was calming and encouraging, and walked me through what I needed to do to correct the misunderstanding.”

Leveling the Playing Field

The NCAA did not always allow homeschooled students to register with college sports teams, but that changed in the 1990s, when the NCAA created a waiver process. Homeschoolers with a waiver could register as non-high school graduates. Then in 2004, the NCAA revised its guidelines again to allow them to register as traditionally schooled graduates.

Schmidt said that the NCAA has pledged to do even more to help homeschooling families navigate the process to qualify their students for college athletics. The organization has posted an online registration form for a workshop on how homeschool athletes can attain eligibility. The event is scheduled for December 13 at 10 a.m. EST.

The scheduled workshop represents the latest step by the NCAA to accommodate homeschoolers.

Today the organization also maintains detailed instructions on its website to help homeschooling families navigate the qualification process. Their actions are in keeping with increased focus on providing homeschooled graduates an equal opportunity to compete for positions on college sports rosters.