Bad news now; good news later?

With Alabama facing one more year of NCAA-mandated scholarship restrictions, two pieces of individual adversity could end up working out well. Potentially, both Antonio Carter and Brooks Daniels could play for the Tide in 2004.

Carter and Daniels have both been hit hard by medical problems. Daniels' situation forced him to withdraw from school this summer, while Carter's slow rehab from two surgeries has so far prevented him from playing this year.

Following his junior season, Antonio Carter underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg. He was originally operated on in the winter of 2002. Carter sat out that spring, aiming to return last season. But intense pain forced him to redshirt. After consulting with Dr. James Andrews at HealthSouth, this past winter the decision was made to operate a second time.

Daniels' potential return to the team would be huge for next season.

The Tide medical staff believes Carter will recover completely, but he will require more time. He's still experiencing significant pain, which prevents him from playing full speed. The final decision has not been made, but at this point Carter is considering sitting out this year as well and applying to the NCAA in December for a sixth year of eligibility based on his medical condition.

The rule governing such a request specifically prohibits waivers for injuries that are directly related to the athlete's sport. But in Carter's case his appeal would be based on problems associated with the first surgery. In fact, the original fracture would have been long-since healed if not for subsequent complications.

Due to stringent regulations regarding the release of medical information, university officials cannot make any specific comment about Carter's case. But with proper documentation from Dr. Andrews, the application should have a good chance of success. Recently, the NCAA has leaned heavily on the side of the student-athlete in such matters, granting waivers that fall within the spirit--if not the technical letter--of the regulation.

Thankfully, Brooks Daniels faces no limiting regulations and no need for appeal. As one of the most talented athletes on the Tide defense, Daniels played each of his first three seasons on campus. Every student-athlete is guaranteed five calendar years to play four seasons, and Daniels hasn't yet used a redshirt year.

Prior to this season Daniels was on track to break Alabama's all-time record for individual tackles, and NFL scouts were watching his progress closely. However, to protect his draft status (and a potential lucrative pro contract), Daniels needs to compete his final season of college football, proving to the scouts that his health issues are behind him.

At this point, reports are that Daniels plans to re-enroll at Alabama for the winter semester. He'll use the winter months to gain back weight and strength for the 2004 season. Spring practice will be crucial for Daniels, as he reacquaints himself with the Tide coaches.

A leader on last year's squad, Daniels is very popular with his teammates, and there is no question that he'd be welcomed back warmly. In Saturday's season-opener, several Tide defenders wrote "18" and "BD" on their forearm sleeves, signifying Daniels' jersey number and his initials. After scoring a touchdown on an interception return, cornerback Charlie Peprah pointed to the "18" for the cameras.

If the NCAA grants Carter a waiver, then 2003's loss would be next season's gain. (AllSport)

As returning players, Carter and Daniels would of course count against Alabama's total of 80 scholarships, but their presence on the squad would have no effect on Bama's 2004 initial counters, limited by sanctions to 19.

At this point, Bama's squad is top-heavy scholarship-wise, with 20 seniors set to graduate and a maximum of 14 juniors moving up. That number would get even smaller if any rising junior decided to declare early for the NFL draft. If Carter and Daniels return next season, their presence would help even out the numbers problem currently facing the Tide staff.

NOTE: Both Carter and Daniels would face strict eligibility requirements. 2004 would be Daniels' fifth year on campus, and he would have to be on track to graduate to play. In Carter's case, as a sixth-year player NCAA rules would require that he already have an undergraduate degree. During fall semester, Carter would have the option of either starting work on a second undergraduate degree or entering graduate school.

Alabama will face no bowl ban next season, but SEC rules require that athletes earn a minimum of six semester hours in the fall to participate in post-season play.

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