Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Matt Leinart's road to the Heisman Trophy
will not be as easy as first anticipated. Sure his numbers were good this past
weekend (19-of-29 for 272 yards and three TDs), but his young receivers are
just that, young. In breaking down the BCA Classic, it is apparent that
Leinart will sorely miss the biggest of targets in Mike Williams. Yes, Reggie
Bush was magnificent in scoring three TDs coming out of the backfield against
the Hokies, but the sure-handed Williams turned Carson Palmer into a Heisman
winner and would have done the same for Leinart.
However, the NCAA made sure that will not happen in 2004, as the sanctioning
body that is "supposed" to protect the student athlete, ruled in the 11th hour
that Williams is no longer eligible to play college football.
Sure, Williams must shoulder some of the blame in this. He disregarded the
warning signs that pointed to him being left in football limbo. The NFL
actually told him that it was going forward with the appeals process in hopes
of overturning the Clarett ruling handed down last spring, and if overturned,
would not allow Williams to enter the draft.
Mike Williams caught 95 passes last season, for 1,314 yards and a school-record 16
Still, unlike Clarett, who burned all his bridges at Ohio State, Williams did
all he could to return to school. He returned all benefits received from his
agent, as well as enrolling in summer classes to make up for lost time in the
classroom, "making progress towards a degree."
Still, the NCAA stood firm on its "one and your done" mentality, even if it
took more time than anyone would have liked to come to that decision.
Will Williams suffer in the grand scheme of things? Probably not. He will
still be a top pick in the 2005 draft and with good reason. The 6-5, 230-
pounder caught 95 passes last season, for 1,314 yards and a school-record 16
TDs. In the process, he led his team to a national championship and
distinguished himself as not only one of the top receivers in the country, but
perhaps one of the best overall players.
However, the NCAA's stubbornness to adapt on a situational basis, is what
troubles me the most. College football cannot exist in a vacuum, although it
seems that the NCAA would like that to happen.
Williams did what anyone else would have done. He didn't challenge the NFL and
try to pry his way into the league like Clarett. He waited for the courts to
open the door and simply walked in. After a higher court overturned that
decision, Williams did everything in his power to make things right with the
NCAA and return to USC.
The timing of the final decision is what irks me, leading to the thought
that the NCAA probably had its mind made up a long time ago.
USC's Pete Carroll certainly agrees. "It's hard for me to understand how
the NCAA can be so insensitive to wait this long when we are an hour from
getting on the plane," USC coach Pete Carroll said, prior to leaving for the
season-opener against Virginia Tech.
"The process has been uphill throughout," Carroll said. "It's been difficult,
anxious, frustrating, all those things. The NCAA denied Mike's request both on
an academic and amateur level. It was a very quick decision. There's a
supposed tone of student friendliness now, but that's not the case here. I'm
talking about the NCAA at its highest levels."
USC Vice President and General Counsel Todd Dickey was not at a loss for words
regarding the NCAA either, especially in terms of Williams' academic standing.
"It is ironic that the NCAA failed to grant a degree progress waiver when Mike
not only met, but exceeded, all the NCAA degree progress requirements except
the new rule that requires six units be passed in the immediately preceding
regular term. We believe there were exceptional mitigating circumstances
surrounding his withdrawing from school during the Spring semester and we do
not believe the purpose or rationale for the six-unit rule was even implicated
in Mike's case."
When all is said and done, Williams will recover. So will the Trojans, whose
favorable schedule the rest of the way could have the team playing for a
second straight national title. However, that doesn't excuse the NCAA for what
is simply a bad decision.
Protecting the student athlete is supposed to be job one for the NCAA, but who
exactly was protected in this case? Certainly not Williams.