The NCAA really needs to smarten up

In late June, linebacker/defensive end Emil Smith gave a verbal

commitment to play football at Boise State. The rising senior at

Ranco Verde High School in Moreno Valley, CA made the choice after

receiving offers from a host of schools that included Washington,

Air Force and Oregon State.

Smith made a statement at the Los Angeles Nike Camp back in

April, holding his own alongside more publicized linebacker

recruits like Lakewood’s Rahim Cassell and Mission Viejo’s

Tre Madden.

Had he waited, Smith’s list of suitors would have

undoubtedly gotten longer once his senior season began. But he made

his choice and from all indications was thrilled that he had. His

recruitment was over.

Tragically, Smith will never get the chance to honor his

commitment. On July 18 he was killed in a head on car crash, with

his brother Dimitri Garcia behind the wheel of the car he was a

passenger in. Garcia also perished in the crash.

For Smith’s family, this is a calamity of massive proportions; I

can’t imagine the pain that they are having to endure right now.

But lost in this is the fact that to a lesser extent, the coaching

staff at Boise State feels a loss as well.

No, not a loss in terms of a football player who won’t be able

to suit up for them, but the loss of someone they had built an

honest to goodness relationship with.

During the recruitment of a high school football player, the

coach’s primary goal is to get a kid to sign on the dotted line.

That takes salesmanship, schmoozing and plenty of ego boosting.

But once that process plays out over many months, a bond can’t

help but be established because contrary to popular belief, coaches

are human, too. A coach gets to know much more about a recruit

outside of how much playing time he’s angling for. The coach and

recruit are not necessarily best friends, but they’re not

necessarily the most casual of acquaintances, either.

And in the case of Smith, a player who had already committed,

the bond between he and his primary recruiter (running backs coach

Keith Bhonapha) was probably pretty damn strong. Dare I say that

Bhonapha probably cared a great deal for Smith and feels a

tremendous sense of loss in the wake of this tragedy.

But Bhonapha could not attend Smith’s funeral. Nor could he send

flowers as a show of sympathy. He couldn’t even call the grieving

parents (or any other family member) to tell them how much he

thought of their son, something that would have brought a smile

during a time when smiles are so few and far between.

That’s because NCAA rules covering recruiting must still be

honored in this instance. The Boise State coaching staff still

can’t even mention Smith BY NAME, something that applies to

recruits whose lives aren’t cut short before national signing

day.

In the case of the phone calls, this is a recruiting “dead

period,” meaning a coach cannot call a player or his family between

June 1 and August 31.

And that’s what handcuffed Boise State’s coaches in regard to

attending the funeral: Smith’s Rancho Verde teammates were in

attendance. Heck, players from opposing teams probably showed up to

pay their respects.

And all of them were recruitable athletes attending an

off-campus function, meaning Boise State could not have any of its

coaches present at the same event.

No allowance is made by the NCAA for the type of situation that

Boise State finds itself in now. For all intents and purposes, they

have been forced to act as if Emil Smith never existed.

Until September 1, that is. And I can only imagine what kind of

call or visit that will be.

The NCAA is on the warpath these days, showing up on campuses

across the country in an attempt to do something, ANYTHING, about

the problem of sports agents improperly contacting student

athletes.

In this kind of climate, I can understand why the compliance

folks and football coaches at Boise State have been especially

cautious. One false move and your program might take a hit.

But there is no Lloyd Lake in this situation, no party hosted by

an agent in South Beach and nothing at all improper about what

Boise State should have been allowed to do. Yet common sense wasn’t

allowed to prevail.

I wonder how Keith Bhonapha will feel during his future

recruiting trips to the area in and around Moreno Valley. His

thoughts will undoubtedly drift toward Emil Smith. And he might

very well travel down the same road where Smith lost his life.

And when he thinks of the aftermath of the tragedy and how it

all played out, I’m sure he’ll feel a sense of bitterness toward

the organization that prevented him from acting like a decent human

being. And he will be perfectly justified in feeling that way.

 

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