Is this the week OU safety Justin Harrington gets his eligibility waiver approved?

Is this the week OU safety Justin Harrington gets his eligibility waiver approved?

Alan Bowman’s medical hardship waiver signaled good news for the Sooners’ veteran safety and his pursuit of a seventh season in college football in 2024.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Jan 8, 2024, 3:10pm CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Jan 8, 2024, 3:10pm CST

NORMAN — Every once in a while, good news for the Sooners comes out of Stillwater.

Alan Bowman had his waiver request approved by the NCAA last week, officially granting the Oklahoma State quarterback a seventh year of eligibility in 2024. Eighty-five miles south, the decision marked a positive signal for Justin Harrington and Oklahoma’s 2024 defense.

The fall of 2023 was supposed to mark Harrington’s last in college football before the Sooners’ veteran safety underwent season-ending ACL surgery in late September. Now, like Bowman before him, Harrington is waiting for word on his waiver request for a medical redshirt, seeking a return to the OU defense in 2024 as Brent Venables first suggested in September. 

Could this be the week Harrington gets good news from the NCAA? Bowman’s outcome would seem to bode well for Harrington’s case to gain another year with the Sooners.

Bowman’s waiver request hinged on a season-ending collarbone injury at Texas Tech in the 2019 season along with a redshirt year in one of his two seasons at Michigan before joining the Cowboys in 2023. It was upon that basis that the NCAA granted OSU’s starting quarterback a seventh season in a college football career that began back in 2018.

“Alan met the criteria for an extension of his eligibility due to his season-ending injury in 2019 combined with redshirting at the University of Michigan,” Ben Dyson, Oklahoma State’s senior associate athletics director for compliance, said in a statement. “We appreciate the assistance of the Texas Tech training staff for providing us the documentation we needed to quickly process our waiver request.”

Bowman’s request relied on information surrounding a five-year-old injury he suffered while playing for the first of his three college programs. Harrington’s case is more straightforward.

The former junior college transfer left the Sooners’ following Lincoln Riley’s departure, then returned under Venables to appear in 13 games in 2022. Last fall, Harrington started in the Sooners’ hybrid linebacker/safety spot through the first two games in 2023, logging six tackles and an interception in early season wins over Arkansas State and SMU. 

Harrington did not appear in another game during the season and underwent knee surgery on Sept. 29, according to Brent Venables.

Those facts suggest Harrington meets the baseline criteria to gain the medical redshirt that would allow him to return in 2024. Under NCAA rules, an athlete must reach the following standard to qualify for a medical hardship waiver:

  • The athlete must suffer an injury that is deemed “season-ending”
  • The injury must occur before the halfway point of the season
  • The athlete must not participate in more than 30% of the season’s games

Harrington checks all of those boxes. The potential complicating factor in his waiver request has always lied with Harrington’s pursuit of a no-longer-unprecedented seventh season; like Bowman, his college career began in 2018. However, Bowman’s waiver approval suggests the NCAA is keeping the reins loose on the medical redshirt front in 2024.

Here’s Venables on the player OU would be adding back to its defense:

“Justin’s a great leader,” he said on Sept. 30. “If he stood up here right now in front of a mic you all would just melt with his perspective and toughness (and) his love for his teammates. He’s a special guy and he’ll be a big part of helping us lead and (will) keep encouraging our guys.”

If Harrington’s waiver is ultimately approved, he’ll return as the front-runner to retain the starting job at Cheetah. Starter or not, the Sooners’ would be even better stocked at the position come the fall with Harrington re-emering in a deep group that will include Kendel Dolby, Dasan McCullough and Samuel Omosigho. Flatly, OU’s defense will be stronger and more experienced if/when Harrington’s NCAA waiver comes through. 

“This is a big opportunity,” Harrington said last August. “It feels like I’m a freshman again. I’m just coming in full of energy.”

If 2023 felt like a new beginning, a return in 2024 — with help from a medical hardship waiver — would mark another second chance in Harrington’s run with the Sooners. 

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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