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A Bad Decision All Around

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus 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.

Mike Williams
Mike Williams caught 95 passes last season, for 1,314 yards and a school-record 16 TDs.
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.

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.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes
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