Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Recruiting: Lane Kiffin playing with fire, or playing by the rules?

image Dave Miller at National Football Post wonders if former Tennessee head football coach Lane Kiffin is taking advantage of a loophole in NCAA recruiting rules. Kiffin and USC are recruiting lights out for the 2010 class, and National Signing Day is tomorrow, February 2. They have 25 verbal commits already, and NCAA rules allow up to 28 to address academic non-qualifiers.  But wait… Isn’t Southern Cal under sanction?

Last year, the NCAA Committee on Infractions absolutely hammered the football program over the Reggie Bush fiasco. The Committee imposed a 30 scholarship reduction over three years (10 each year), which was supposed to go in place before the 2011 calendar and season.

So how is Kiffy able to load up on top drawer recruits, following a no-bowl, dismal 8-5 season?

Enter the ubiquitous NCAA loophole!

Lane Kiffin is merely taking advantage of the appeals process as the school fights sanctions that would limit its signing classes to 15 for 2011 through 2013. Until the NCAA makes a ruling on the Trojans’ appeal, the sanctions will be kept on hold. The school also is fighting the back half of the two-year bowl ban.

is not expected until February or March.

Which means that Kiffin is on the hunt for several of the nation’s top prospects, and the former Tennessee head coach has already snagged some of the best available talent in what he has described as “the most important class ever signed at USC because of the situation surrounding it.”

Out of the school’s current 25 commits, nine players have already enrolled early in January. Quarterbacks Max Wittek and Cody Kessler were big “gets” for Kiffin, as well as addressing the lack of depth at offensive line. The class also could include multipurpose threat De'Anthony Thomas and receiver George Farmer, perhaps the nation's top receiver.

Of course, real drama could unfold on National Signing Day if players who have made commitments give in to final sales pitches from other major programs.

But for now, the situation at ‘SC doesn’t appear so bleak.

So what happened to the program being handcuffed? Is Kiffin taking advantage of a loophole?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.

If I recall correctly, USC fought the NCAA tooth and nail, managing to stall the league for years. I don’t think they self-imposed any scholarship reductions, so continuing on as if the sanctions are not in place is in technical compliance with the rules and consistent with a profession of innocence.

But the “playing with fire” aspect of this story is that Kiffin is running a terrible risk. The appeals committee might treat Kiffin’s latest play with such scorn that they make the sanctions stick in the 2011 year, forcing USC to cut loose ten recruits.  Which ten?

Exit question: What are the chances that the NCAA allows any and all 2011 recruits to retain all eligibility and transfer to any school of their choice?


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