Well, at least we're not in limbo anymore. Monday, shortly after Drew Ott had been at the NFL Scouting Combine* to participate in interviews (he's still not cleared in his rehab from knee and elbow surgeries to participate in physical activities), Iowa announced that the Big Ten had agreed to move Iowa's appeal for a fifth year of eligibility for Ott on to the NCAA, who will make the final decision.
#OttWatch2016 #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/FoGsW3sFYK— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) February 29, 2016
Basically, the Big Ten didn't say "no" to Iowa's request. Which is nice. Of course, even if the Big Ten had said "no," Ott still would have been entitled to appeal the decision to the NCAA.
Ott's case isn't open-and-shut, which is likely part of the reason behind the (very) slow progress of the appeal. Technically, Ott doesn't meet one of the main criteria to receive a medical hardship waiver -- he played in six of Iowa's 14 games last year, which was more than 30% of Iowa's games. The NCAA rules permit a player to receive a medical hardship waiver if they don't complete 30% of the season before the midway point of the season. Ott just misses that mark, but Iowa is arguing that Ott should qualify because he played in only two full games last year (Illinois State and Wisconsin) and played limited roles (sometimes very limited) in the other four games that he saw action in.
The Big Ten's role in the decision-making process on the appeal seems very limited, based on this summary provided by Marc Morehouse in The Gazette:
In medical hardship cases in which participation thresholds have not been exceeded (i.e., the student has not competed in more than 30 percent of the regular-season contests and has not competed beyond the midpoint of the regular season), conferences decide whether the student shall regain the season at issue. In cases in which participation thresholds have been exceeded, conferences decide only whether to forward the case to the NCAA, and the NCAA decides whether the student shall regain the season at issue.
Based on that summary, it seems like the Big Ten basically just had to decide whether or not Ott's case contained enough merit to be sent on to the NCAA for them to determine whether or not an exception could be made to the existing policy -- and it seems as though they did find enough merit. So now we wait for the NCAA to weigh in, although as Morehouse noted, there's a deadline here -- the NFL Draft gets underway on April 28, so Ott needs to know before long if he NCAA is going to grant him another year of eligibility or if he needs to start preparing for the Draft.
Hopefully he won't have to wait that long -- Ott indicated at the Combine that he thought he would hear "in two weeks" about the appeal. (Although it's not 100% clear to me if he was referring to the NCAA's decision on the matter or if that referred to the news that was released on Monday, that the Big Ten had granted Iowa's request to forward the appeal to the NCAA.) This process has dragged on for some time now with little in the way of transparency (it's one thing to not discuss any private medical information about Ott, but another thing entirely to make the appeals process so oblique and inscrutable) or clear timelines, but it seems like an end might -- finally -- be in sight. Huzzah.
* Ott was able to participate in the Combine as long as he didn't sign with an agent or accept the free gifts made available to participants.