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How did Mathis gain extra year? UNM, NCAA still not telling

Wyoming’s Justin James drives past New Mexico’s Anthony Mathis during the second half of their Mountain West Conference tournament basketball game in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 13. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

It’s not every day a college basketball team’s leading scorer, who has already played four seasons injury free and went through his emotional Senior Night ceremony in front of the home fans gets the news Anthony Mathis got last month.

The NCAA is giving the 6-foot-3 shooting guard a fifth season of playing eligibility, granting a waiver he and the university’s compliance office had quietly been pursuing throughout the season.

The surprise announcement was welcomed in Lobo land among University of New Mexico coaches, staff and certainly fans, but more than a few were left scratching their heads.

And, had a similar surprise announcement been granted for a Mountain West rival’s senior leading scorer without explanation, the move would likely be the source of great frustration in Albuquerque.

So the Journal asked how such a move, one that isn’t related to injury or any of the known family hardships for which other Division I players are regularly granted such playing waivers, could have happened for Mathis and the UNM Lobos.

Neither Mathis nor the university will say exactly why it happened, and UNM has not let Mathis talk to the media since the April 17 announcement even though it said it would schedule a press conference sometime later.

The university on Thursday issued a blanket denial to the Journal of a records request seeking correspondence between UNM and the NCAA with the hope of learning the NCAA bylaw under which the appeal was granted.

The NCAA allows college athletes five years to play four seasons in a given sport. Mathis participated in four seasons at UNM between the fall of 2015 and this spring. The Journal has confirmed that the NCAA, in granting its waiver, gave Mathis back the 2016-17 “sophomore” season he played, albeit sparingly, under former head coach Craig Neal.

At the end of that season, Mathis was one of several players who requested their release from scholarship.

Some players still left after Neal was fired March 30, 2017, but Mathis was one who decided to return after all after Neal was gone and New Mexico hired Paul Weir.

It remains unclear what happened with Mathis that season that the NCAA deemed worthy of granting another season. The NCAA has not responded to Journal’s attempts to get a clarification.

In some cases, hardship waivers can be granted to return a season of eligibility to a player who was injured, participated in fewer than 30 percent of his team’s games and did not play after the midway point of the season.

Mathis played in 10 of UNM’s 31 games that season for a total of 64 minutes. But because there wasn’t an injury and two of the games played came after the halfway point of the season, Mathis would normally not be granted another season to play.

On Thursday, after denying the Journal’s records request, David Williams, the UNM deputy athletic director for external affairs, did eventually tell the Journal that Mathis’ waiver was granted under NCAA bylaw 12.8.6.3: Season-of-competition waiver (extenuating circumstances).

The details, witness accounts and evidence submitted on Mathis’ behalf are protected under the Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act of 1974, but disclosing the rule being applied is not.

In the fall, UNM, eager for public pressure to mount on the NCAA to potentially grant the waiver, released to the Journal correspondence between the school and the NCAA in the waiver appeal for Lobo forward Carlton Bragg.

UNM was trying to get Bragg a waiver to play at the beginning of the season despite NCAA rules not allowing him to play until mid-December. The waiver was never granted.

In that case, UNM wrote to the Journal on Thursday, “Bragg requested and consented to the release of similar information last fall.”

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