Tom Brands hints at future legal appeal to recover year of Spencer Lee's eligibility

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Tom Brands is serious about the fight against COVID-19. The Iowa wrestling coach, during a 45-minute teleconference Tuesday, acknowledged that he was in Day 6 of a seven-day quarantine at his Iowa City home because he was informed he had been in contact recently with someone who was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

“I’m fine,” he said, noting he had no symptoms and has only been out of the house to go jogging.

Brands calls COVID-19 “Enemy No. 1” right now, with an eye on future appeals about eligibility relief officially denied by the NCAA Monday night to winter-sports athletes.  

Spencer Lee was 18-0 this season. His final match, shown, was a 16-2 decision at the Big Ten Championships.

Specifically, Brands sees extenuating circumstances to recover a year of eligibility for Iowa junior Spencer Lee, a three-time world champion who competed in the college season while most other top-level wrestlers opted for an Olympic redshirt. Like the other 329 wrestlers who were seeded for the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis, Lee did not get an opportunity to vie for his third NCAA title. He was on track to becoming the fifth four-time NCAA champion and the first in Iowa’s storied program history.

Brands noted that only Lee and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia (who was later suspended for drug use) were the only college wrestlers in the Olympics discussion; Lee competed in the U.S. Senior National Championships (and dominated) in December to qualify for the now-postponed Olympic Trials. Lee has said he would not take an Olympic redshirt in 2021, either, instead wanting to help Iowa win its first team title since 2010.

Brands was cagey in his comments, because he said now is not the time for an appeals process.

“The one thing you have to realize in this job is you don’t get anywhere by taking on the establishment,” he said. “You have to be very well thought out and very planned and well-oriented.

“Let’s get rid of COVID-19. Let’s do that first.”

Brands was adamant about social responsibility and stopping the spread of the virus. The way he sees it, once that occurs, the next steps can follow. Fighting for eligibility with the NCAA usually involves lawyers, and time. Brands has stated on multiple occasions that Lee was “robbed of history” by the cancellation of the winter sports championships.

“We know that Spencer Lee has to win three before he wins four. But to do it justice, we have to go down this path,” Brands said. “I don’t know what it looks like. But I know that dealing with this type of stuff, you have to have a plan and it has to make sense. And that’s what we’re working on. Right now, we’ve got to beat Enemy No. 1.”