BERKELEY, CA – Henry Bazakas, a third generation University of California student and a walk-on offensive lineman for the school’s football team, had finally earned an athletic scholarship last season, starting three games at left tackle, but health concerns over COVID-19 led him to opt out of his final season of football at Cal, the New York Times reported.
Nine days after opting out, Greek-American Bazakas “found his scholarship had been cut off, and he was then billed more than $24,000 halfway through his summer term because the athletic department had revoked the financial aid that it had already paid,” the Times reported.
“The summer school aid was ultimately reinstated by a university appeals committee, which said the school had violated the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules by abruptly pulling Bazakas’ aid before giving him an opportunity for a hearing,” the Times reported, adding that “Bazakas also asked for his scholarship back for the fall semester, but the appeals panel sided with the athletic department’s decision to not renew it.”
“While most of his teammates arrived at Cal with scholarships pledged for four years, walk-ons, like Bazakas, who eventually earn scholarships, may not get them in subsequent years, and Cal had met an NCAA deadline in July not to renew his,” the Times reported.
“It feels like the second I was done playing football, the program was done with me,” said Bazakas, the Times reported, noting that he “waited nearly three months for his summer aid to be restored through appeal.”
Bazakas “recalled the immense pride he felt” when he was “informed him that he would be on scholarship last year,” since he “grew up sitting in the stands at Memorial Stadium rooting for Cal,” the Times reported, adding that “his late grandfather, a Cal graduate, was a season-ticket holder,” and “his father, a financial officer at a tech company, and his mother, an educator, graduated from Cal.”
Bazakas started playing football in high school and had drawn “interest from Ivy League schools and Weber State,” but “he jumped at an offer from Sonny Dykes, then the coach at Cal, to join the Golden Bears as a walk-on,” the Times reported.
“That was a dream come true,” Bazakas told the Times.
It took some time and hard work, however, before Bazakas actually played. “By his third season, he had worked his way up to the 70-player travel squad,” the Times reported, noting that “the next season was cut short by a torn knee ligament.”
“Last year, after being awarded a scholarship, Bazakas was thrust into the conference opener because of a teammate’s injury and helped the team drive the length of the field for a late field goal to beat Washington,” the Times reported, adding that “he started three games and also played in a victory over Stanford that ended Cal’s eight-game losing streak in the rivalry.”
“It was my proudest moment,” Bazakas told the Times.
Bazakas “had hoped for more highlights this season,” the Times reported, noting that “he wanted to compete for a starting position. But he is grateful for the experiences he has had.”
“I didn’t want it to end the way it did, but in the scale of 2020, most things aren’t going the way people wanted them to go,” Bazakas told the Times.
Bazakas had planned to continue this season since he “was already deep into a master’s program for information and data science, so leaving did not make sense,” the Times reported, but by June, the COVID pandemic, led the 6-foot-6 and then-330-pound Bazakas to rethink his plans. He was in a high-risk category and he worried about contracting the virus from teammates in workouts and possibly spreading it to his parents and others in his neighborhood
After numerous conversations with teammates, family and his girlfriend, Bazakas made his decision, noting that “the thought of going back scared me a lot,” Bazakas told the Times.
A month later, he found charges on his student account for summer fees: $23,506 and for the summer stipend: $631, the Times reported.
“I was pretty shook,” Bazakas told the Times, “I thought, ʻMan, I’m going to have to explain this to my parents.’”
The three-person appeals committee sided with Bazakas and said that “the athletic department failed to provide a hearing before his aid was revoked, which is required by NCAA rules,” the Times reported.
Though he was not offered a fall scholarship, Bazakas continues his studies at Cal, the Times reported, noting that “he is spending $15,000 to take his last two classes and he will graduate in December.”
Bazakas, “who signed off on his appeal letters with ‘Go Bears!’ – said his experience had not soured him on Cal,” the Times reported, adding that he continues to follow his team through the trials and tribulations this season.
“Last weekend Bazakas, 50 pounds lighter, having shed some of his football girth, sat in front of the TV and did what he had always done… rooted for the Bears to win,” the Times reported.