The men’s Razorback tennis team graduated two senior stars in the spring of 2016, or so the team thought.
Senior Jose Salazar, who is from the island of Tenerife in Spain, won a dispute with the NCAA on Sept. 12 to see whether or not he had the opportunity to earn back another year of eligibility to play for the Razorbacks for the upcoming spring.
Salazar will be returning to the tennis court for the 2017 season.
The dispute traces back to Salazar taking care of his sick grandparents in high school.
Right after high school, Salazar said he took a year off to take care of his family.
“My family was struggling and had a business back on the island and needed attention,” Salazar said. “My grandpa had heart problems, and my grandma was also sick while I was still finishing my degree and playing tennis at the same time.”
During his time away from school, Salazar said he started playing in professional tennis tournaments. However, accepting money from those tournaments is what got him into hot water with the NCAA.
“In tennis, (a player) is allowed to play professional tournaments,” Salazar said. “You need to justify your prize money. So now, we are trying to justify why I played in all of those tournaments.”
According to NCAA guidelines, amateur tennis players can participate in professional tournaments but with some restrictions. Before becoming a collegiate athlete, tennis players can compete in professional competitions and win up to a maximum $10,000 in a year. After that point is reached, prize money can only equal the expenses the athlete paid to participate in the tournament. Once an athlete makes it to the collegiate level, however, they can only win prizes that are less than or equal to their expenses.
After the 2016 NCAA Tournament, Salazar said he and his coaches gathered all of the necessary paperwork and submitted his case to the NCAA board.
Salazar said he waited for four months to see if he would have another opportunity to play.
“At the beginning, we just tried thinking of the best case, and it would be a 10 percent chance of getting the year back,” Salazar said.
As time went on, Salazar said that compliance from the university believed his chances of competing again were higher.
“The NCAA connected everything together and saw it was a good reason why I didn’t go to college on time and why I was playing in so many tournaments,” Salazar said.
Salazar said he is looking forward to the upcoming season and his teammates are excited as well. Junior Branch Terrell is looking forward to Salazar playing another year for the Razorbacks, he said.
“Jose coming back is great for the team,” Terrell said. “Besides him being a great tennis player, he is a great person that everyone on the team enjoys and gets along with. He is the type of person you want on your team.”
Junior Oscar Mesquida is also excited about Salazar’s return, he said.
“It means so much for us,” Mesquida said. “He is one of the best players in the nation and he is a leader on and off the court.”
Salazar also said he is ready to play with the team filled with fresh-faces.
“The team will look better than last year,” Salazar said. “Individually, I will be very excited to play against the top players in the country. We have many new players this year. Last year we struggled on the bottom of the line up, and we were good at the top. This year, we will have good players in our whole lineup.”
This spring, the first-team All-SEC candidate will be first in the lineup for competition, which means better competition and a higher individual ranking for Salazar.
“I did good last year and ended up No. 18 in the country,” Salazar said. “The thing is with that ranking, if you don’t play No. 1 you won’t be able to keep your ranking no matter what.”
Salazar could beat someone ranked lower than him every week but would never move up in rank because he was No. 2 in the lineup in the spring of 2016.
“Even if I win all of my matches, I’m not going to keep my ranking because other guys playing No. 1 for their school will get better wins than I do,” Salazar said. “If I lose matches I shouldn’t, my ranking would go down.”
Salazar will graduate in the spring of 2018 with a degree in business management with a minor in international business.