FSU suffers setback with prized recruit
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- An NCAA committee has told Florida State it cannot further appeal the eligibility of highly touted junior college recruit Diego Romero, who played on a professional team in his native Argentina before moving to the United States more than two years ago.
School officials are decrying the ruling and say they will continue lobbying for Romero's clearance.
"The situation involving Diego Romero represents the most blatant disregard for that priority on the part of the NCAA that I have witnessed in my 20 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics," Florida State athletic director Dave Hart said Friday.
In a Nov. 19 letter to the school, NCAA associate director of student athlete reinstatement Jennifer Strawley wrote that Romero "compromised his amateur status" by signing two professional contracts in Argentina.
The school's contention was that Romero signed those contracts only to receive about $2,400 in living expenses and that he did not intend to be a professional athlete.
Florida State said Romero's move to Texas in 2001 and enrollment at Lon Morris College, coupled with his denial of other benefits -- including a salary and housing allowance from the Argentine club -- further proves Romero's desire to retain amateur eligibility.
"The committee considered the institution's argument that the student-athlete did everything he could have done to be eligible by enrolling at a junior college in order to transfer," Strawley wrote. "However, the issue is not with what the student-athlete did at the junior college, but rather with what he did before enrolling at any collegiate institution."
Under former rules, the NCAA would likely have given Romero an eight-game suspension this season. NCAA legislation was changed and made stricter in October 2002, increasing the maximum penalty for amateurism violations to 28 games.
But the latest NCAA ruling, if not overturned, would effectively mean Romero will never play for the Seminoles.
"He came to this country with a desire to earn a college degree and to better himself and his family," Dale Dotson, Romero's coach at Lon Morris, wrote in an appeals letter to the NCAA. "To take that opportunity away from him is an injustice not only to him, but to all of those who try to follow the correct path."
Romero chose Florida State over Texas Tech, Indiana and Kentucky and was part of a Seminoles' recruiting class which some considered as the best in the country entering this season.
He averaged 14 points and eight rebounds in his two years at Lon Morris, which reached the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament for the first time in nearly four decades his freshman season. The school is located in Jacksonville, Texas.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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