Agent, dropped classes cited as evidence

Updated: August 28, 2004, 12:18 AM ET
Associated Press

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 said.

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 returned.

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."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press