Fifth-year senior deemed ineligible for final race


Senior Chris West cheers on Phi Delta Theta rider Wesley Ring during Individual Time Trials on March 28 at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Chet Strange Buy Photos

After going through multiple review cases and changes of eligibility, the Phi Delta Theta rider has been ruled ineligible to race in the last Little 500 of his collegiate career.

“I guess the one word that really puts it into perspective is ‘heartbreaking,’” West said. “I spent this whole past year preparing, expecting to ride in this year’s race. Then, to get within a month of the race and have it taken away, it’s heartbreaking.”

West has only ridden in the race three times.

In the spring of 2009, though, he rode in Qualifications for Phi Delta Theta. After Qualifications were complete, West decided he needed to buckle down and focus on his grades rather than bike racing and did not participate in the actual race that year.

According to the official Little 500 rule book, each student is allowed to participate four times within a five-year period, and anyone who is on a team’s Qualifications list is considered to have participated that year. Ruling a rider ineligible for this rule has only happened one other time in the past 10 years.

West was initially ruled ineligible for this year’s race because of this rule, and he filed a protest to the IU Student Foundation in February 2011, which was passed, deeming him eligible to ride.

West said he thought the case was closed for good, but it was only halfway through. Because of the protest and appeals process the IUSF has, Delta Tau Delta rider Phil Sojka was able to appeal the foundation’s ruling in February of this year.

“I just wanted to make sure that everybody who rides in the race gets an equal and fair opportunity to do so,” Sojka said. “I know Mr. West is upset, and I feel for him. Obviously, I had no intention to make things hard for him or anything. I just wanted to make sure the rules were being upheld correctly.”

Sojka said he learned about West being granted a fifth year through one of his teammates who was on the Little 500 Riders Council with West last year.

However, Sojka said he was not pressured by anyone to file his appeal. He said he didn’t let his team, coaches or friends help him in the process and handled the case completely by himself.

The Little 500 Appeals Board, composed of students from the Little 500 community and IUSF, a member of the IU Foundation Board of Associates and a member of the Bloomington community, heard Sojka’s and West’s cases and the IUSF’s reasons for ruling West eligible a year ago.

After going through all the information, the board decided to rule West ineligible, and the decision cannot be overturned.

“It’s an unfortunate situation for Chris, but we maintain a protest and appeals process for any team or rider to lodge a complaint so that it’s heard and it’s fair for everybody,” IUSF Race Coordinator Jordan Bailey said.

The appeals board’s decision was just as hard for his team to take in as it was for him, West said.

“It was tough at first for the team to swallow,” he said. “We didn’t think it could be reopened like it was. But they’ve really rallied around the fact that now this spot’s open. Now we have to fight for it, and I think it’s making our team better as a whole.”

Despite not being able to ride in the race for Phi Delta Theta, West still is able to practice on the track at any point because of his spot on the Riders Council.

He has already participated in the Individual Time Trials and Miss-N-Out competitions and plans to continually prepare his team for the Little 500 with his experience and knowledge of other teams.

West said he was disappointed with the outcome of the appeal, but he also said he has no hard feelings toward Sojka or the appeals board.

“I kind of take it for what it is,” he said. “I’ve been granted three years racing in the race, and that’s more than a lot of people get to do. I feel blessed to be a part of this great event. It’s really a unique thing to be a part of.”

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