STANFORD -- Stanford senior Miles Unterreiner has enough academic smarts to qualify as a Rhodes scholarship finalist.

But for weeks he has been stumped by a real-life geography problem: How can he be in Seattle on Saturday for the all-important Rhodes selection committee interview on the same day his cross country team is competing for an NCAA championship 1,946 miles away in Louisville, Ky.?

If it came down to running the 6.2-mile course through Kentucky's Tom Sawyer State Park or competing for one of the world's most prestigious scholarships, Unterreiner has decided that the chance to study in Oxford will finish in second place.

"My team and my teammates have given me so much over the last four years that it's really tough for me to let them down at this really important point in the season by not being there," Unterreiner said. "There's no way I can't go to the national meet."

But now it looks as if he may be able to do both after all.

Even with a three-hour time difference, no commercial flight could get him from Louisville to Seattle in time for the 4 p.m. Rhodes session. But a private jet probably could -- and Monday the NCAA is expected to tell Stanford one can be provided for Unterreiner without violating any of its myriad regulations.

On Sunday night, Unterreiner was both grateful to those intervening on his behalf and hard at work trying to pin down the logistics if the NCAA does give its blessing.


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"If I were to make it, I'd have to run straight off the course, drive right to the airport, get on the plane, fly to Seattle, and then I'd have a really short time to make it to the interview site," he said. "If all that works out, it's great."

If it doesn't, Unterreiner could go through the Rhodes application process next year, but there is no assurance he would again be a finalist.

His family in Gig Harbor, Wash., which helped him frame his dilemma, has been comfortable with his decision to forgo the Seattle interview.

"We said, 'Miles, you're talking about one day in your life -- one race -- or the opportunity to be a Rhodes scholar should you be chosen, and have two or three years of study in Oxford," his mother, Allison, said. "And he said, 'Mom, I have the rest of my life to achieve other things.' "

Technology exists that would allow Unterreiner to interact with the Rhodes committee through video conferencing. But the longstanding process is spelled out in detail, and that is not an option.

"To be fair to the Rhodes, that does set a precedent," said John Pearson, the director of Stanford's Bechtel International Center, who has worked with Unterreiner on his application. "These are very personal scholarships in the way you win it. There's a lunch, a reception where the candidates mingle with the panel. That's the way Rhodes approaches it."

The interview process is spread over two days, and Unterreiner could be in Seattle for Friday's lunch and initial interviews. But all candidates are required to be present on Saturday as well for a possible second interview and the announcement of the winners.

The Seattle district is one of 16 in the United States holding interviews the same weekend. Each district invites about 10 to 15 finalists, and two scholars are chosen at each location, giving the United States 32 of the more than 80 scholarships handed out annually. Past winners include former president Bill Clinton and other notables such as former NBA star and U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, actor and recording artist Kris Kristofferson and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

While one district is talking with candidates just 95 miles from Louisville in Indianapolis, there could be no last-minute switch in sites, as Unterreiner could apply only in his home state of Washington or Northern California.

In establishing the scholarships, Cecil Rhodes noted in his will that a "fondness for and success in sports" was to be part of the criteria, and Unterreiner isn't the first athlete caught in similar circumstances. In 2008, for example, Florida State safety Myron Rolle won the scholarship in Birmingham, Ala., then quickly boarded a short flight to Tallahassee in order to play a game the same night.

There was a more awkward situation a year ago. Yale quarterback Patrick Witt appeared to have chosen a game with rival Harvard over the interview, but the New York Times later reported that the Rhodes Trust had dropped him as a candidate amid accusations of sexual assault. Witt denied that was the case, and no charges were filed.

Unterreiner is not the fastest runner on Stanford's cross country team. But scoring is cumulative, and his times have helped the Cardinal rise to third place in the NCAA rankings.

Stanford cross country coach Chris Miltenberg said Unterreiner's decision to risk losing a Rhodes scholarship to run in Louisville didn't reveal anything new about him.

"Great teammate, great leader who cares about his teammates," Miltenberg said. "He's also a person who wants to see his running through till the very end. He's spent a lot of years competing at a high level."

Unterreiner, who turns 23 later this month, competes at a high level away from the sport as well. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, he earned his bachelor's degree with honors in history last spring and will finish requirements for his master's in December. In addition to running cross country and track, he also is an editor on the Stanford Daily.

While confident he was doing the right thing by running in the NCAA championship, Unterreiner still worried about disappointing those who helped him become a Rhodes finalist. His application required Stanford's endorsement and up to eight letters of recommendation.

"So many people put so much effort into helping me out," he said. "I've had fantastic letter writers, my professors, advisers. It'd be tough for me to put them through that again."