Setting the walk-on record straight

Despite several articles explaining the Bryant Scholarship and how it does (and more importantly does not) affect prospective walk-on athletes, many Alabama fans continue to be confused on the subject.

In a front-page article posted a couple of weeks ago (Bryant Scholarship Could Help), we laid out the particulars of what the Bryant Scholarship is, who can benefit from it, and theoretically how it could end up helping several football athletes walk-on and play for Alabama without counting against the Tide's scholarship numbers.

There was never any question (in our mind at least) that the article was accurate. After all, first Charlie North and then Randy Ross had discussed in great detail with the Bryant Scholarship, clearing up misconceptions that we frankly had held before talking to the two men. Of course North and now Ross held the title of Director of Football Operations and were certainly men in a position to know.

But long-held ideas can be stubborn things, and some fans refused to believe even their testimony. So we decided to go to Chris King, Alabama's Associate Athletic Director for Compliance, whose exact job it is to interpret the often arcane NCAA rules in regard to how they affect Alabama sports, specifically the football team.

King first talked about why the Bryant Scholarship is not considered a sports scholarship.

As the son of a former player for Coach Bryant, Tyrone King, Jr. could attend Alabama and have his expenses paid by the Bryant Scholarship.

"The criteria of the scholarship are not based on athletics," King pointed out. "It is awarded to any student (athlete or non-athlete, male or female) whose father played or coached for Coach Bryant."

Then King addressed the more complicated issue of "institutional aid."

Chris King said, "The Bryant Scholarship, qualifies as Institutional Financial Aid under bylaw 15.02.1. NCAA Bylaw 15.02.1 defines financial aid that is administered by an institution, if the institution, through its regular committee or other agency for the awarding of financial aid to students generally, makes the final determination of the student-athlete who is to receive the award and of its value."

For the legalese-impaired among us (including me), the bottom line is that since the Bryant Scholarship can only be used by students to pay for their education at Alabama (Joe Namath's daughters can't use it to attend the University of Florida), it's considered "institutional aid."

So was Terry Jones Jr., a former Tide tight end now competing for the Baltimore Ravens, living high on the hog during this time at The Capstone, enjoying a double-grant from both his football scholarship and the Bryant fund? Unfortunately for Jones, no.

King explained. "Currently, for a full scholarship football student-athlete, the student-athlete can't accept the Bryant Scholarship or he would be over his financial aid individual limit of a full scholarship."

Many fans mistakenly assume that precisely because the Bryant Scholarship is considered "institutional aid," if a walk-on football player uses the Bryant Scholarship to pay his expenses--then sees action during his first two years on campus, he must count against Alabama's scholarship numbers.

If the athlete was considered "recruited" by the NCAA, that is correct. If not, it is not.

King continued, "For a recruited walk-on, a student-athlete who was recruited by UA and who receives institutional financial aid granted without regard in any degree to athletics ability (i.e. the Bryant Scholarship), that student-athlete does not have to be counted until he engages in varsity intercollegiate competition.

"If the student-athlete does engage in varsity intercollegiate competition, the student-athlete becomes a counter."

Many sons and daughters of former Bryant players or staffers have benefited from the Bryant Scholarship, including at one time current Tide tight end David Cavan. Cavan is now on football scholarship, but he began at Alabama as a "recruited" walk-on.

Right, that's precisely what many knowledgeable fans already know. But King continues.

And here is the part many fans should pay close attention to.

King said, "If it is a ‘non-recruited' student-athlete that receives the Bryant Scholarship, the student-athlete would not count, regardless of intercollegiate competition."

Note the two phrases: "would not count" and "regardless of intercollegiate competition."

King is saying that if the walk-on in question is judged to have been "non-recruited" by the NCAA, then he can play whenever he wants--even in the first game of his first semester--and not count against Alabama's scholarship numbers.

Consider a practical example, if Tyrone King (5-10, 183, 4.65), who played cornerback for Minor High School in Adamsville this year, and whose father, Tyrone King Sr., lettered for Coach Paul Bryant from 1972-1975, should decide to attend The University using the Bryant Scholarship to pay his tuition, then Tyrone would theoretically be able to play immediately. And his participation would have no impact at all on the Tide's scholarship numbers. Of course the key is that Tyrone was not "recruited" by the Tide coaches.

The difficult distinction for many fans, of course, is whether the athlete in question is "recruited" or "non-recruited."

Who judges that? The NCAA.

But actually the rules for that designation are fairly straight-forward. Before walk-ons are allowed to participate in practice, the Tide staff goes over them carefully, and normally the walk-on athlete signs a form acknowledging the circumstances of his recruitment (or rather non-recruitment) by the Alabama coaches.

As we said in the previous article, there are potentially three athletes that could make use of the Bryant Scholarship this year and still walk-on without impacting Bama's scholarship numbers. Those athletes are Tyrone King, receiver Joe Jones (5-9, 170) who is the son of former Tide receiver and now Mountainbrook head coach Joey Jones, and athlete Johnathan Lowe (5-6, 154, 4.5) the son of former Tide linebacker Eddie Lowe.

Actually, the previous article also talked about Jake Wingo (6-0, 200), who played this past season for Hillcrest High School. Wingo's father is Rich Wingo, who was a star linebacker and later served as strength coach at Alabama. Jake recently announced his commitment to Alabama, and of course he would be eligible for the Bryant Scholarship. But because he's been recruited by the Tide coaches (he's scheduled for an official visit on January 30), at first glance it would appear that he must sit out his first two seasons regardless.

In fact that's precisely what happened to current Tide tight end David Cavan, who walked onto the team in 2000, using the Bryant Scholarship to pay his school bills. But late in the 2001 season, when the Tide coaches wanted to use Cavan in games, they could not. Because to do so would have required counting him against Bama's scholarship numbers, and there was not room. Cavan had to wait to see his first action in 2002, two full years after enrolling at Alabama.

Jake Wingo has committed to continue his family legacy and play football for Alabama.

Will the same fate befall Jake Wingo?

Not necessarily. And again, this is a point that many extremely knowledgeable Tide fans probably misunderstand. But if Wingo's family pays all his bills to school, eschewing their right to utilize the Bryant Scholarship, then he could play immediately.

Again, let's consult Chris King.

"If a walk-on athlete pays his own way entirely and receives no institutional aid, it would not matter if he is deemed ‘recruited' or ‘not recruited,'" King said. "This individual would have no impact on UA's scholarship numbers."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Normally, this would be a subscription story, available only to Crimson Ticket holders. However, due to the widespread misunderstanding of these concepts among many fans, we thought it best to make it available to everyone, whether subscribers or not. Given how important these issues are, we frankly encourage readers to link this article anywhere there might be a fan interested in the subject.

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