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
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
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
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.