Carroll calls NCAA's denial 'insensitive'

Originally Published: August 26, 2004
ESPN.com news services

LOS ANGELES -- The NCAA refused to reinstate Southern California All-American Mike Williams on Thursday, leaving the star wide receiver unable to rejoin the top-ranked Trojans after being shut out of the NFL draft by the courts.

"I'm glad it's over. Now the team can move forward and I can move forward," Williams said in a telephone interview. "I'm disappointed. I did everything asked of me. I don't know yet what I'm going to do. I'll just relax for the weekend and watch the game and root for my team."

The ruling came down shortly before the Trojans boarded an airplane for Baltimore. They open defense of their national championship Saturday night against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

USC vice president and legal counsel Todd Dickey said while the ruling could be appealed, the matter was closed.

"At this point, we don't believe it would be useful to go through those processes," he said. "We think the NCAA has firmly made up its mind."

Williams agreed, saying: "I'm kind of done with it right now."

USC coach Pete Carroll reacted angrily to the ruling and its timing.

"It's very cold and insensitive for them to deny him this opportunity," Carroll said. "I'm not surprised by it, but I'm disappointed for Mike and his family. You'll have to go and ask the NCAA for answers, how they can turn someone down who is otherwise academically eligible."

The NCAA issued a statement Thursday night defending the timing of its announcement and its conclusions.

"There were two obstacles facing Mike for eligibility; one related to academics and one related to amateurism, and sports agents in particular," the statement said. "Either one was sufficient to prohibit participation in competition. In this case, neither obstacle could be cleared."

The organization also said it acted quickly to reach a fair decision and that the ruling came "within 24 hours of receiving the final piece of information" that it needed to complete its investigation.

The school had applied to the NCAA for a progress-toward-degree waiver and reinstatement of Williams' eligibility.

Williams told ESPN The Magazine he was thinking of those who helped him clear NCAA hurdles just for him to make his case.

"I really felt bad for the people that exhausted the whole entire process, like my parents who put together all the numbers and all the receipts," Williams said. "And I feel bad for coach Carroll, who had to save face for me and sticking up for me when I wasn't at practice. He had to deal with my issue as well as get the team prepared for the season.

"I really was worried about all those other people who tried to help me throughout the situation and how they're gonna react to it. I just want to thank a lot of people who were behind the scenes trying to make it happen."

Williams also told ESPN The Magazine that he will work out with USC strength coach Chris Carlisle while attending classes for the next four months. By then, he will be the minimum three years removed from high school. In his quest to have his academic eligibility restored, Williams also took summer classes.

"It makes no sense to just sit around for four or five months and do nothing. I'm just going to get with coach Carlisle and get on a workout program that's going to take me through December and just adjust to being a normal student and finish out the semester. And then just give [NFL scouts] hell when I go through my workouts."

Williams caught 95 passes for 1,314 yards and a school-record 16 touchdowns as a sophomore last season to help the Trojans (12-1) win the national championship. The 20-year-old Williams, a sure-handed 6-foot-5, 230-pounder, finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

After a court ruled that last winter that Ohio State's Maurice Clarett was eligible to play in the NFL, Williams left USC, hired an agent and said he was turning pro. That made him ineligible to play for the Trojans.

Williams was projected as a high first-round draft pick, but on May 24, an appeals court overturned the earlier ruling and upheld the NFL's right to bar players who had been out of high school for less than three years.

Williams has been out of high school less than three years, as has Clarett, who was suspended last season after starring at Ohio State as a freshman.

After the appeals court ruling, Williams severed ties with his agent and began the process of applying to the NCAA for reinstatement.

He returned to USC and took summer classes, seeking to have his academic eligibility also restored.

It was all for naught.

"The process has been uphill throughout," Carroll said. "It's been difficult, anxious, frustrating, all those things. ... The NCAA denied Mike's request both on an academic and amateur level. It was a very quick decision. There's a supposed tone of student friendliness now, but that's not the case here. I'm talking about the NCAA at its highest levels.

"Mike's OK, he could sense it, too. It's been difficult for him. He felt it was an uphill battle from the start. I feel sick for him. The team will be OK, we've prepared without him."

Two NCAA committees each considered separate issues. One was academics-related -- whether Williams has made sufficient progress toward a degree. The other was whether he had returned all benefits provided him by his agent and endorsements.

Williams claimed he had documented the return of all such benefits.

Despite playing only two years, Williams finishes his USC career as the fourth-leading receiver in school history. He was the favorite target of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer as a freshman in 2002, making 81 receptions for 1,265 yards and 14 TDs.

"We've been preparing without him," quarterback Matt Leinart said earlier this week. "(But) you can't fill the shoes of Mike. I can't imagine what he's gone through."

At least in part due to Williams, Leinart finished sixth in the Heisman voting last season.

Highly touted freshmen wide receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Fred Davis might make Williams' absence easier to take.

"I think we are in a good situation under the circumstances, but we are extremely untested," Carroll said.

Sophomores Steve Smith and Chris McFoy will start at wide receiver against Virginia Tech.

Smith is the leading returning receiver, having caught 17 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns. McFoy had two catches for 23 yards.

Williams will be eligible for next year's NFL draft.

League spokesman Greg Aiello declined comment on Thursday's ruling, but said Williams was informed before making his decision to go pro that if the NFL prevailed in court, he would not be eligible for this year's draft.

Williams said playing in the CFL this fall is not an option.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN The Magazine's Bruce Feldman was used in this report.

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