Agent, dropped classes cited as evidence

8/27/2004 - USC Trojans

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA says Mike Williams sent a clear
message he no longer wanted to play college football by hiring an
agent and dropping out of spring classes.

That's part of the reason Williams' appeal to be reinstated was
rejected, Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for membership
services, said in defending the decision Friday.

"At the end of the day, when we stepped back and looked, there
was no question he violated the amateurism rule," Lennon told The
Associated Press. "He said, 'I want to be a professional, I no
longer want to be a college student-athlete.' "

Southern California's football team was in Maryland preparing
for its season opener Saturday night against Virginia Tech and was
unavailable for comment.

Vice president Todd Dickey, the university's legal counsel, said
he was more upset that the NCAA strung out the process.

"Basically, they said hiring an agent and declaring for the
draft was too much, and they knew that from the beginning," Dickey

Williams announced in February he would enter the NFL draft
after former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett twice beat the
NFL in court. Those rulings opened the door for other underclassmen
to turn pro early, but Williams was the only other college player
to take advantage of the rulings.

In April, five days before the draft, a federal appeals court
issued a stay. On May 24, the appeals court ruled in favor of the
NFL, giving it the right to bar players who had been out of high
school less than three years.

Williams, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound All-American wide receiver,
severed ties with his agent, Mike Azzarelli, and enrolled in summer
classes at Southern Cal.

But it wasn't enough to sway the NCAA's opinion.

"There were alternatives," Wally Renfro, senior adviser to
NCAA President Myles Brand, said in a telephone interview from
Washington, D.C. "There are things the student-athlete can do. He
can seek advice from experts, he can enter his name in the draft.
But the timing didn't require Mike to sign with an agent."

Williams would have been one of the leading Heisman Trophy
candidates this year. Instead, the No. 1-ranked Trojans will open
defense of their national title without him.

He could challenge the NCAA ruling, but Williams would have to
win appeals in two separate committees. Williams and a school
attorney said Thursday they would not appeal.

Lennon said one factor committee members considered was when
Williams stopped receiving benefits from his agent. He declined to
say whether Williams was still receiving benefits following the
April appeals court ruling.

A phone message left at Azzarelli's office was not immediately

Williams' other problem was a new academic rule requiring
student-athletes to complete six hours of classwork in the spring
semester to remain eligible in the fall.

Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll called the decision cold and
insensitive. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops agreed.

"I think it's really unfortunate and very insensitive that they do it the day that they're leaving for their trip," Stoops told ESPN Radio Friday night. "This could have been decided a month ago, two months ago, or even told him, listen, there's nothing you can do to restore your eligibility. You've made that choice. Head on down the road. That's the way it goes."

Renfro and Lennon said the NCAA acted within 24 hours of
receiving the final paperwork, which both said arrived Wednesday
night. Dickey said it took months to compile the documents.

"One of the things that's gotten out there is that we could
have made this decision in a week or let Southern Cal know it was
not going to be a positive decision," Renfro said. "Then you
don't need any information, then you don't have a process."

Lennon said the NCAA heard about 1,100 reinstatement cases last
year and that 99 percent of student-athletes won their appeals --
most with conditions attached.

But the committee members found Williams' case was different.

Dickey said he understood the rules and the decision, he just
wished the NCAA had made its intentions clear earlier.

"It was obvious to the NCAA and the whole world when he
declared his intention to become a professional, that he wanted to
be a professional," Dickey said. "The whole point of this was
that he wanted to renounce his professionalism and return to being
an amateur."