D.J. RIVERA played for Saint Joseph's last season. D.J. Rivera is playing for Binghamton this season.

Welcome to the new world of the "hardship waiver."

It was no secret that Rivera was not getting along with St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli. The sophomore wasn't happy with his playing time. Everybody knew he was going to transfer.

Everybody also knows transfers must sit out a year at their new schools. Not anymore, at least not in cases where a player's new school applies for, and the player is granted, a "hardship waiver."

Hardly anybody knew about the 1991 rule until Tennessee used it before last season on behalf of Tyler Smith, who had been at Iowa and wanted to come home to be with his very ill father in Tennessee. The NCAA granted Smith a "hardship waiver." He did not have to sit out a year and played last season with the Volunteers.

Rivera, a high-flying scorer at Neumann-Goretti, is averaging 20.3 points and 6.6 rebounds for 4-3 Binghamton, of the America East Conference.

In the summer of 2007, Rivera was alleged involved in an incident in which he was the victim.

Apparently, Binghamton made that incident and Rivera's reaction to it the centerpiece of its appeal to the NCAA. David Eagan, Binghamton's associate athletic director for compliance, wrote in an e-mail: "I can confirm that the NCAA granted D.J. Rivera a hardship waiver allowing him to compete this year. In addition, we are not at liberty to discuss any specifics, in accordance with student privacy issues."

The NCAA has loosely defined the basis for a winning appeal as "circumstances that are out of the control of the student-athlete." Which is nice enough and quite vague.

The NCAA obviously ruled in Rivera's favor, as he is playing. It is perfectly within the rules and, in Rivera's case, might very well have been for perfectly legitimate reasons. The rule was put in to be athlete-friendly by an organization that has often been accused of being autocratic.

Like so many NCAA rules with good intentions, however, the "hardship waiver" rule has the potential for abuse. After the Smith case, players around the country are suddenly homesick and discovering ill relatives, trying to find a way out of a situation they do not like, without having to sit out a year.

More and more appeals are being made. Somehow, the NCAA has to sort through what is legit and what is not. Good luck.

It isn't exactly free agency, but players are now more likely to be recruited successfully off a school's bench if the prospective new school can convince that player it can get him a "hardship waiver" and he won't have to sit out a year. Third parties will be getting in players' ears telling them they can get them a "hardship waiver."

The National Association of Basketball Coaches would like the NCAA to revisit the rule and get rid of it. The rule is there to help an athlete in a difficult circumstance. Which is a good thing. How often the rule is now being used may be less of a good thing.

Villanova on a roll

Jay Wright's team has won 17 of its last 18 City Series games and goes for a third perfect Big 5 season in 4 years against Temple on Dec. 29.

The Villanova coaches are not resting on their national rankings and Sweet 16 runs. They are working harder than ever, which has resulted in a recruiting class that, according to ESPNU's rankings, includes players rated 11th, 22nd, 27th and 35th nationally. They are: Dominic Cheek, St. Anthony (of New Jersey), Maalik Wayns, Roman Catholic, Mouphtaou Yarou and Isaiah Armwood, both from Montrose Christian (of Maryland).

Let's think about that. That is four of the top 35. That sounds like a lot more winning.

You can check out Yarou and Armwood on March 6 when ESPN2 televises their game against Oak Hill (of Virginia) at 7 p.m. Cheek's team plays Putnam City (Okla.) at 10 a.m. on Jan. 19 on ESPNU. And you can check out Wayns at any Roman game.

The Donches story

Got lots of reaction to last week's story about the Steve Donches shot that won the 1966 St. Joe's-Villanova game for the Hawks.

There was none more heartfelt than the one from Brian Traynor. His brother Kevin was No. 23 for Villanova, standing not far from Donches in the famous photo of the play.

"Kevin was a nonscholarship walk-on that never played in high school, went to 'Nova, was cut from the freshman team, made the varsity as a sophomore as a complete practice scrub and wound up as a starter off and on his junior and senior years in the backcourt with Billy Melchionni," Brian wrote in an e-mail.

Kevin remained a great Villanova fan until his death in 2004.

"When VU made the finals in '85, he called me at 11 p.m. the night before and said that he and a bunch of guys were renting a van, stocking it up with beer and heading to Lexington early the next morning and would worry about tickets when they got there," Brian wrote. "I declined because of some job commitments. Without a doubt, the biggest mistake in my life. Regret it to this day. They somehow made it to Lexington, got in the game, and the rest is history."

Better late than never

It took a few weeks for my blog prediction that Temple might be as good as Villanova to come to life on the court. The Owls dominated Tennessee last Saturday. The Vols were dizzy midway through the second half from chasing Temple's players around the court. Screens seemed to be coming from anywhere and nowhere.

It was nice for the nation to see what we already know. When Dionte Christmas gets hot, there is only one place to run when he shoots. Just head for the net and wait for the ball to arrive. *

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