jared ward“(Insert athlete’s name here) ruled ineligible by NCAA for (insert seemingly inconsequential rule violation here).”

That’s a headline college sports fans have been seeing a lot this year.

Just one week after Colgate basketball freshman Nathan Harries was ruled ineligible — and later reinstated — for participating as a substitute in a recreational church league, the Deseret News reports the similar plight of BYU cross-country and track runner Jared Ward.

Ward, like Harries, delayed his college enrollment to serve a two-year Mormon mission following his graduation from high school. He returned from that mission two weeks into BYU’s fall semester, so he instead decided spent the that time training and traveling, with plans of enrolling for the spring.

During that time off in the fall of 2009, Ward attended a race in California to support his younger brother and chose to participate in a pre-race fun run that the Deseret News described as “a recreational cross-country race against fat, old guys and people wearing bird costumes.”

“I had to get in a workout that day anyway, so I thought I’d just jump in the race,” Ward told the newspaper. “A lot of the entrants try to get a laugh out of the kids, so they wear costumes. I recall someone wearing a tuxedo and another guy in a bird suit and a monkey or gorilla costume. It’s not uncommon.”

The NCAA, however, viewed this as a violation of its rule that prohibits student-athletes more than a year removed from high school from participating in organized, unsanctioned athletic competiton, and as a result, Ward was docked a year of eligibility. BYU reportedly appealed this ruling twice and lost.

Ward then enrolled at the school and went on to become a four-time All-American, but he has not been allowed to compete in this, his senior season. He continues to contest the NCAA’s ruling that participating in the one recreational race four years ago allowed him to gain a competitive advantage over his fellow collegiate runners.

“If I were trying to gain an advantage by running in a competitive race, I wouldn’t have chosen that race,” he said. “It’s not a competitive effort.”

Without Ward, the Cougars will enter the NCAA Cross Country Championships in two weeks ranked fifth in the nation.

Photo via Facebook/BYU Track and Field / XC