This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on August 24, 2002.
A mother returns
By ED ODEVEN
Sun Sports Staff
“A mother’s love is instinctual, unconditional, and forever,” someone once said.
Jen Snitker is a mother. She’s also a college basketball player, a pretty good one.
Before the 2000-01 season, Snitker made a heart-wrenching decision based solely on the welfare of her young daughter Jaidyn. At the time, Snitker was attending Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va. She decided to move back to Arizona.
It was the only option.
“I did it for Jaidyn. She’s the most important thing to me,” Snitker said.
In the fall of 2000, Snitker enrolled at NAU and joined the women’s basketball team as a walk-on, but she never played a minute that season. Since she left one Division I school for another, Snitker was required to sit out a year based on the NCAA’s transfer rule — that’s a common occurrence.
Snitker’s situation, however, is unique. It’s the road less traveled.
She starred at Yavapai College, a junior college, for two seasons (1997-98 and 1998-99, earning all-region and all-conference honors both years). Snitker then went to Marshall, and while there she gave birth to Jaidyn in March of 2000, and used a medical redshirt year (1999-00 season). After sitting out the 2000-01 season, Snitker, a guard/forward, was an impact player for the Lumberjacks this past season, finishing second on the team in scoring (11.3 points per game) and earning Big Sky Conference Top Newcomer accolades.
For NAU coach Meg Sanders and the university, it was assumed Snitker would be back for one more year. After all, they thought, she had only used three of her four years of eligibility — two at Yavapai and one at NAU.
Or was that the case?
If she’d be coming back to NAU to play hoops, she’d be a student-athlete for a sixth year. And normally, the NCAA grants student-athletes only five years to complete their eligibility.
It’s the “five-year rule,” and it states that student-athletes have five calendar years to complete four athletic seasons in one sport.
Sanders said she’s not blaming Kimberli Bowman, NAU’s former assistant athletic director/compliance, for the misunderstanding.
“You have to know the manual in many places,” Sanders said. “The NCAA manual is a thick book (the 2001-02 edition is 427 pages), and you have to be very knowledgeable on many, many fronts. You have to really know your stuff, and I think there were things she didn’t check into. … That’s where the mistake was discovered.”
A HELPING HAND
That’s also where Mike Moleta, NAU’s assistant AD/compliance for the past nine months, enters the picture.
In June, Moleta notified Snitker and Sanders that Snitker’s college playing days were technically over. But that’s not the end of this story.
Through meticulous research Moleta decided it was best to apply for a waiver, asking the NCAA for another year to use her fourth athletic season, or an extension of the clock. (It’s not easy to get an extension. Every year the NCAA receives between 100 and 200 petitions for an extension of the clock. Ninety-five percent of them are denied, according to Moleta.)
“The criteria for this extension was extreme financial need,” Moleta said, “when she transferred here to NAU.”
In short, Moleta, Snitker and Sanders set out to convince the NCAA to waive her transfer year, the year she moved back to Arizona with Jaidyn.
From a financial standpoint, raising Jaidyn in Arizona made sense. Snitker’s family lives in Prescott Valley and Jaidyn’s father, Jacoury Houston (who also played basketball at Yavapai and recently earned a scholarship to play at Grand Canyon University), resides in the Phoenix area. By leaving West Virginia, the cost of daycare and baby-sitters for Jaidyn, especially during the basketball season, would be greatly reduced.
Indeed finances wasn’t the only factor that convinced Snitker she should make the move.
“Emotionally, if her father wants to be in her life I’m not going to keep that from her,” Snitker said.
“I never felt like I was cheating the NCAA or cheating anybody because of my situation,” she went on. “I didn’t have to lie about anything. I transferred for her. Financially, it was the best thing, and for her it was the best thing.”
Sanders, a mother of two, agreed Snitker came here for the right reasons.
“She returned to Arizona for the well-being of her daughter,” said Sanders, entering her seventh season as NAU’s head coach. “She did not transfer to NAU because we recruited her. She came here because she thought this was the best thing for her daughter and for herself to be around where the father was, where her family could support her. Then she enrolled at NAU and walked on the team.
“She did not try to gain any advantage by doing this. She just tried to do what was best — make a good decision.”
In early June, Snitker’s paperwork was sent to the NCAA’s Academic Eligibility Compliance Committee, including brief letters from Snitker (the 2001 NAU Golden Eagle Scholar Athlete Award winner) and Houston and her transcripts dating back to her junior high days.
“What they needed to hear is what we gave them. It was straight and to the point,” Moleta said.
“I told Jen it was a 50-50 chance.”
Or eerily similar numbers to what the sharp-shooting Snitker put up on the hardwood last season — she led NAU with a 49.5 percent shooting percentage.
Indeed the early part of Snitker’s summer was one that required patience.
Or as she recalled, “I was waiting and wondering and hoping and praying.”
Snitker’s prayers were answered. On July 26, her 23rd birthday, she received the good news: the NCAA had OK’d her request — she was given one more year.
Sanders was the bearer of the good news.
“She told me she found out the day before and that she was crying all night long. (The next day) I met her at lunchtime and she was crying when I saw her,” Snitker said, smiling.
On July 25, while she was at a high school in Irvine, Calif., Sanders heard the news.
“I was sitting in the bleachers, doing my summer recruiting,” Sanders recalled. “I got a call from (assistant) coach (Cathy) Bogh saying that she heard from Mike Moleta that Jen was given a waiver to extend her five-year clock.”
Shock was Sanders’ initial reaction.
“I must have asked her five times, ‘Now you’re not kidding me? You’re serious?'” I had to make sure that that was a definite confirmation,” Sanders said. “Then I called Mike Moleta and thanked him for all his work.”
“I can’t take credit for it (NCAA’s decision),” she continued. “Jen did a great job explaining her motives and her reasons for why she wanted that extension and Mr. Moleta put everything together to make it happen.”
Snitker is on course to complete her bachelor’s degree in physical education this academic year. She’ll student-teach at Coconino High School and Killip Elementary School in the spring, serving eight-week stints at both schools.
And she’ll return for her last hurrah to a basketball team that finished 2001-02 with a 17-11 overall record, tied for third in the Big Sky. Snitker will be one of three seniors on the Jacks’ roster, joining Joy Dixon and Lindsey Foster as tri-captains.
More than anything, Sanders said, Snitker is the kind of player that is a coach’s dream, the kind of player that does all the little things well, the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“With Jen, she’s our glue,” Sanders said. “She just brings so many things to the table, with her athleticism, with her intensity level, how hard she works, the expectations she has of herself and her teammates. She has an unbelievable attitude.”
It’s an attitude that never once hinted at a me-first decision. Quite the contrary. Jaidyn, who’s now 29 months old, not basketball, always comes first.
“I would’ve been sad if I couldn’t play,” said Snitker, Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain High’s all-time leading girls scorer with 1,585 points. “”But I did it for a good reason.”
In any season, that illustrates the love a mother has for her daughter. And in the game of life that makes her a winner.