BLACKSBURG – Brock Hoffman was halfway through a ham and cheese sandwich, a mid-day snack Tuesday at his family’s North Carolina home, when he got a phone call from Virginia Tech offensive line coach Vance Vice.
It was the call Hoffman had been eagerly waiting for, expecting to hear this week that the NCAA had approved his waiver request to play football this season for the Hokies after transferring from Coastal Carolina.
Instead, Vice delivered devastating news that left Hoffman too upset to finish eating. The NCAA had considered Hoffman’s desire to transfer to be closer to home and his ailing mother, but had rejected his request to play this season, instead requiring him to sit out a year before returning to competition.
“I thought it was going to be an open and shut case,” a disappointed Hoffman said Wednesday morning. “Why did they have to do this with me when they’ve already made it seem that it’s easy to transfer for other guys. I’m transferring for family reasons and I get shut down.”
Now, the sophomore offensive lineman is hoping an appeal and public outcry can help change that ruling. His family is looking to retain a lawyer, something they didn’t do for the initial application.
“It seems now that the NCAA, if you’re not going to make noise about something, they’re just going try to brush it under the rug,” Hoffman said. “I feel like I was a little naïve in trusting that they would make me eligible because I’m doing the right thing.”
A two-year starter at Coastal Carolina, Hoffman is transferring to Tech next month, in large part, he said, to be closer to his family. His mother, Stephanie, underwent brain surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor in 2017, just weeks after Hoffman enrolled early at college.
Hoffman said she still struggles from that surgery, dealing with partial facial paralysis and damage to her hearing and eyesight.
The Chanticleers’ campus in Conway, S.C., near Myrtle Beach, sits 200 miles from Hoffman’s family home in Statesville, N.C., just north of Charlotte. Tech’s Blacksburg campus is about 135 miles from Statesville.
The difference would make it easier for him to go home for visits and to be more involved taking her to doctor’s visits and other appointments. The travel would also be much easier, not just for his family to see him play home games, but to attend road games. Many ACC venues are within two hours of their home, while that was not the case in the Sun Belt Conference.
But, according to Hoffman, the NCAA ruled that his home was five miles outside of the prescribed radius for this type of transfer waiver, news Hoffman received Tuesday from Vice after the NCAA had notified the school’s compliance department.
The NCAA also cited the fact that Hoffman’s mother’s condition has improved since the surgery as a reason to reject the waiver application, Hoffman said, a statement he believes ignores what his mother still deals with and how hard it has been for him to spend the past two years away at college.
“That was like a punch in the gut to me,” he said.
The news stunned Hoffman – as well as others in the Tech athletic department – who felt this case is a textbook example of why the medical hardship waiver includes family members.
Hoffman took to Twitter on Tuesday evening, pleading with Hokies fans to support his cause as he files his appeal, later this week or early next.
“Crazy how today the NCAA has denied my medical family hardship waiver for my eligibility of the 2019 season,” Hoffman posted on Twitter on Tuesday evening. “The appeal process will be quick and I need all the support I can get. Don’t let the NCAA take football away from me this season when others get a free pass for playing time issues.”
As of Wednesday morning, that post had been liked 16,000 times on the social media app, and shared just under 9,000 times.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said he spoke with Hoffman and his family Tuesday night.
"I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you I was disappointed for a lot of reasons," Fuente said. "When you see a kid that tries to go about it in what you perceive in the right way for very real reasons and it doesn’t work out, it’s very disappointing."
Part of Hoffman’s frustration stems from the fact that the NCAA has been granting waivers for transfers to play immediately much more freely of late.
Georgia quarterback Justin Fields transferred to Ohio State in the winter and the NCAA granted him a waiver to play immediately. Fields reportedly cited in an incident where a Georgia baseball player referred to him using a racial slur as mitigating circumstances for the NCAA to consider.
After the NCAA approved Fields’s request to play this coming season at Ohio State, another Buckeyes quarterback – Tate Martell – transferred to Miami. He applied for a waiver to play immediately and that was also granted.
Martell reportedly cited Fields’s arrival at Ohio State – as well as a coaching change – as the reasons for his waiver application.
But because Hoffman’s waiver request to play at Virginia Tech was a medical family hardship application, it was reviewed under different guidelines than the ones the NCAA voted to relax last April.
The NCAA didn't not immediately reply to a request for comment on Hoffman's case.
Tech will also support Hoffman’s attempts to get eligible, and plans to file the general waiver application for him, citing the change of his position coach and head coach at Coastal Carolina in that paperwork.
Football wise, the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Hoffman would be a major addition for a Tech football team that loses three senior starters from last year’s lineup – tackle Yosuah Nijman, center/guard Kyle Chung and guard Braxton Pfaff.
Hoffman started all 12 games as a freshman at Coastal Carolina in 2017, and all 12 last season, playing right guard.
Virginia Tech is also hoping to get waiver for Oregon transfer quarterback Braxton Burmeister to play this season. His case with the NCAA would be bolstered if Oregon officials support his decision to transfer, a source said.
But overall, the Hokies are optimistic he’ll be cleared to play in 2019.
Then again, that’s how Hoffman felt before Tuesday.