COLUMN: RaeQuan Battle never asked to be, but is now the face of a larger issue with college athletics

MORGANTOWN — The moment WVU men’s basketball guard RaeQuan Battle took the witness stand in a federal court in Wheeling on Wednesday, he became the face of a movement thousands of times larger than his own 6-foot-5 frame.

What started as a fight against the NCAA for Battle’s eligibility this season suddenly turned into so much more.

“It was a huge day, and he’s the face of this entire process,” WVU head coach Josh Eilert said. “I’m really proud of him, I told him that for certain. He’s done this with so much class and integrity.

“It took a lot out of him. Having that courage to testify and put himself out there, it took a lot out of him. I think the nerves kind of got to him and he didn’t feel all that well and spent the rest of the evening resting.”

Ever since the state of West Virginia joined in with six other states and brought a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA and its transfer eligibility rules, this was no longer just a question of whether Battle could suit up for the Mountaineers this season.

Yes, that’s the part that Battle — and WVU — may be most concerned with, but this case ultimately is now about the future of thousands of college athletes and the future of how the NCAA governs them.

If we make it to this time next year, and the NCAA no longer even has regulations concerning transfers and their eligibility, an entire sports world will say that’s because of RaeQuan Battle.

Now, think for a moment about the entire scope of what that would entail.

True, one side of the coin tells you that student-athletes gain their freedom from what many view as an oppressing organization.

The other side of that coin is an entire starting five of Team A deciding to transfer to Team B year after year for no better reason than they can.

We’ll take that one step further in saying — if the NCAA loses this case — there’s a real possibility the NCAA would eventually cease to exist, because it can no longer enforce, well, anything.

If you think college athletics are the wild wild West now, just wait until there are literally no consequences for transferring schools or for illegal recruiting of athletes.

That’s what is now at stake in this federal case that Battle has become the face of, and that’s a lot for a young man of just 22 years old to deal with.

“I don’t think he wanted to be (the face) by any means,” Eilert said. “This isn’t the route he chose. I was very forthright through the whole process saying this was going to be an open-and-shut case. I thought it would be a rubber-stamp issue from the NCAA from the specifics of this particular case. By no means do I think RaeQuan wanted to push this thing this far, but he’s fighting for what he believes is right.

“Does he want that attention? I don’t think he does by any means. I’m very proud of him for taking it this far and doing what he thinks is right and fighting for his rights in a court of law.”

The ultimate question I would love for the NCAA to answer one day is why it made Battle the face of all of this to begin with?

Why was Battle’s eligibility request under the mental well-being exception the hill the NCAA chose to stand on?

All of this could have been avoided back in October, when the NCAA first denied Battle’s eligibility. If the organization simply rubber stamped the request, as Eilert said, we wouldn’t be discussing any of this today.

Yet, it was the NCAA’s decision to create this war, one that Battle chose to fight and one that will ultimately make him immortalized because of it.

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