Dealing With the NCAA's Blunder

Linebacker Lemarcus Rowell talks about the sudden change of plans as he prepares to begin his collegiate football playing days.

Auburn, Ala.--Lemarcus Rowell has been a regular at Tiger football practices going back to spring training earlier this year. On Saturday, he will be a participant for the first time.

The 6-2 1/2, 218-pound inside linebacker from Opelika High School received word on Friday from the NCAA, via Auburn officials, that he can practice with the Tigers and play in the Peach Bowl. However, if he did play in the bowl game vs. North Carolina, he would burn a season of eligibility so Rowell will be limited to practices as the Tigers prepare for the Dec. 31st bowl matchup in Atlanta.

Lemarcus Rowell at his press conference in January announcing that he planned to sign with the Tigers.

"I am glad to get back into it," Rowell tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. On Saturday, he will practice twice, putting the pads on for the first time since early last summer when he played in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. At that time, Rowell assumed that he would come in and contribute immediately to the Tigers as a highly-regarded, heavily-recruited true freshman. However, that didn't happen.

Despite two appeals by Auburn officials after Rowell was denied eligibility because of the debate over an Opelika High School ninth grade math (Introduction to Algebra) course's inclusion in the core curriculum, the linebacker was sidelined when the NCAA ruled him academically ineligible. Incredibly, in a classic case of bureaucratic mismanagement, Rowell's math class had already been approved as a core course by the NCAA Clearinghouse when Auburn began two-a-days in August. However, that information was never passed along to Rowell, Auburn or the appeals committee hearing the Rowell case.

The linebacker's mother is considering a lawsuit against the NCAA, which has changed its decision and now admits that Rowell should have been eligible for all AU games. Last week, Rowell was told he could not practice with the Tigers because he was just a part-time student at Auburn despite the fact that he is a part-time student due to the NCAA's incompetence. Rowell will be reimbursed by AU for the two classes he took and will go on full scholarship in January after re-signing with the Tigers in the December signing period that starts Dec. 19th.

Rowell watches an August practice that he should have been participating in during two-a-days.

Rowell says he is irritated by the mixup, but says his immediate concern is football practice this week. The Tigers are expected to have 13 practices in the next six days with classes out of session at the university. Much of the focus of those workouts will be on developing younger players. Because of that, the former Parade All-American will have plenty of chances to get a head start with the December workouts, winter workouts and spring practice compared to most of the others in the 2002 signee class.

"This will help me out," Rowell says. "I will be ahead of the other guys who report next fall. It was real tough this season to watch the team play knowing that I would have had an opportunity to help."

Rowell and fellow AU signee Carnell "Cadillac" Williams became good friends during the recruiting process. Williams made a big splash for the Tigers, earning freshman All-SEC honors. Rowell was considered a player who could have made an impact on defense. "I was happy for Carnell and supported him the whole year," Rowell says. "Now, I am just going to try to get back into the swing of things and see what I can do."

Rowell made 183 tackles, including 32 for losses as a senior at Opelika High last year. Auburn is recruiting three of his former teammates--quarterback/athlete Will Herring and defensive tackle Tommy "T.J." Jackson plus junior linebacker Tez Doolittle, who will sign in February 2003.

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