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The NCAA, SEC, "Partial Qualifiers" and Slippery Slopes

Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Powe ...

Kentucky fans probably waste precious little attention on the Jerrell Powe saga that has been ongoing at Ole Miss since 2004, but that story is finally coming to resolution, and that resolution has implications for the entire SEC, including Kentucky.

Jerrell Powe, for those who have never heard this story, was a 5-star lineman who signed to play for Sylvester Croom Ed Orgeron (I always get the Mississippi school coaches messed up.  Apologies to both schools' fans for the error.) in the 2005 recruiting class.  Powe failed to get by the NCAA clearinghouse, so being declared ineligible, he went to Hargrave Military Academy in 2005, was declared ineligible again and spent 2006 "wandering in the desert" before hiring an attorney and obtaining a temporary restraining order.  This order, according to the Clarion-Ledger via the Sports Law Blog (original article no longer available) read essentially thus:

Lafayette County Chancery Court Judge Edwin Roberts Jr. said Ole Miss must allow Powe to enroll in school by Friday — the final day students can enroll for the fall semester. Roberts also said in court papers that because Powe has met the NCAA’s minimum requirements for academic eligibility, Powe should be placed on athletic scholarship and be allowed to practice with the team, in accordance with NCAA rules and the binding scholarship papers Powe and the university signed in February.

Long story short, Powe was able to attend classes at Ole Miss, but unable to play football.  Since that time, Powe has evidently been proving his academic worth, and recently the NCAA issued this ruling making him what used to be known as a "partial qualifier."

There's only one thing -- the SEC doesn't admit "partial qualifiers."  At least, not until Powe.

In a stunning change in policy, the SEC announced through Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone:

"Basically, the SEC's initial eligibility rules will generally mirror the NCAA's, which allow some non-qualifiers to attend school and try to get their grades up before competing," Boone said. "The one caveat is that any non-qualifier still has to be approved by the (SEC) commissioner."

Now think about this for a minute.  That means that anyone who does not qualify under SEC rules but can reach "partial qualifier" (I thought that term was deleted from the NCAA bylaws?  Yes, but not really.) status under an NCAA wavier can be reviewed for admission at the discretion of Mike Silve.  Condensed down into something we can all understand, here is a description of how the SEC used to approach the issue before the Powe Rule:

Now, as large as Jerrell Powe is, let's set him aside for a moment. This is big news. It is a huge change in the way the conference approaches this issue. In the past, the SEC — unlike other leagues — didn't allow non-qualifiers on campus at all, at least as prospective athletes. A non-qualifier either had to get qualified in prep school or graduate from junior college. Otherwise, they didn't get on the field, ever.

The essential upshot of all this is that it is now easier for academically challenged non-qualifiers to be admitted into an SEC school and pay his own way or even get athletic-related aid.  If he manages to satisfy NCAA academic requirements in that first year, he would theoretically become eligible under NCAA and SEC rules for an athletic grant in aid (scholarship).

Why is this relevant to Kentucky?  Hopefully, it isn't, but it could be that DeAndre Liggins winds up in this same boat.  If so, this new path opened up by the NCAA could provide a much faster route for prospective student-athletes with marginal academics to get on the field or on the floor faster, and they can all thank a learning-disabled youngster from Mississippi for that.

I am personally all in favor of such a scenario, but it does come with concerns and questions.  As the esteemed Senator Blutarsky of Get the Picture notes:

Talk about your slippery slopes.  Mike Slive has to approve these recruits?  What do you think the odds are that he says yes to one school and no to another?  And if he were to do something like that, what sort of uproar do you think that would generate?

Indeed.  Not just uproar, really -- lawsuits.  Do you think for one minute that Silve really has any power at all over this?  One such "ruling" and the TRO's will fly like bats from a cave.

Other concerns about this scenario arise in my mind:

  • Will schools now create "special" curricula for academically-challenged PSA's to get them eligible?
  • Will schools now start providing tutorial assistance in excess of what a normal student can receive in order to help a PSA obtain eligibility?
  • Will the PSA be treated like a regular student while he is enrolled on his own dime?
  • Will the PSA be eligible for other financial aid, and will that aid jeopardize his eligibility if he does succeed in class?
  • What process is the SEC using to determine who will be approved and who won't?  Will this process withstand judicial review?

This is a scenario very similar to the one that Dakotah Euton finds himself in with the KHSAA.  The SEC position seems to be a presumption of denial of eligibility, just like the KHSAA's is.  The biggest difference is that the KHSAA seems to have a process, whatever we think of it and however arbitrarily it seems to be applied.  The SEC doesn't, and I guarantee if it doesn't get one right soon, that will be a problem.

I am all about second chances for kids, especially ones that give them an opportunity to earn something that has been administratively denied for often nebulous reasons.  As Josh at the Double A Zone (the official NCAA blog) points out, the NCAA deserves recognition for keeping Powe's interests in mind.  Will they keep doing it, or is this a one-off effort just to get Powe's attorney off their back?  The SEC seems to be following the NCAA's lead, but to my mind, neither group has established the proper set of procedures and protocols to manage what will certainly become a growth industry.