Marshall Column: A Ruling Lacking In Common Sense

It started in 2001 when Blake Eddins, who had gone from Montgomery to play basketball for Arkansas, came home and joined with other college players to give something back to their community.

A year later, Bret Eddins, Blake's brother and an Auburn defensive end, was instrumental in making it a football event. He called on his teammates at Auburn and friends at Alabama. The Montgomery Southeast YMCA Give-Back Football Clinic was born. Every summer since, Auburn and Alabama football players have gathered in Montgomery to sign autographs and give pointers to hundreds of youngsters.

The players have given their time and paid their own expenses, getting only a meal for their trouble. The clinic and autograph session are free and open to anyone who wishes to attend.

The clinic has been featured at halftime on Jefferson-Pilot's Southeastern Conference Game of the Week. Hundreds of youngsters have had the opportunity to be on the field for a short time with the players they have seen only on television. This year's event was scheduled for last Friday night.

Ben Obomanu signs an autograph at the event in Montgomery. The senior wide receiver is expected to be one of Auburn's top players this year.

The event has been widely praised, and rightfully so. That's why organizers were stunned Friday afternoon when the urgent call came from Gil Grimes, an assistant SEC commissioner. He told them it was against the rules and they had to call it off.

Against the rules to give of your time to help children? Finally, Grimes said the players could sign autographs but could offer no instruction.

Contacted at the SEC office Monday, Grimes said he got a call early Friday afternoon asking if the event was proper. He said he contacted the NCAA and was told no more than one player could actually give instruction.

"They confirmed that the limit of one would still be in effect," Grimes said. "There is actually a rule. It is football specific. If it was basketball, it wouldn't be a problem."

Grimes told me he thought the situation was addressed in Bylaw 12-5.1. I read that one and every other one I could find that seemed remotely relevant. I read nothing in any of them that seemed to say there was anything improper. But, hey, I am far from an expert on interpreting NCAA rules.

A couple of hundred kids came and got autographs anyway. Others, hearing there would be no on-field interaction, turned and went home.

Just like that, an event that does nothing but good was spoiled, at least for this year. Clinic organizers aren't giving up. They are convinced that someone, somewhere made a mistake.

Bob McGahee, executive director of the Montgomery YMCA, was perplexed, as anyone would be. "I want to find out what happened, where it came from," McGahee said. "It seems to me that common sense has gone out the window."

Yes, it does.

Moving on…

*A persistent rumor that Auburn is involved in talks with Michigan about scheduling a future home-and-home series is just that, a rumor. Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs says he is committed to scheduling future games against teams from other BCS conferences, but he says there have been no serious talks with Michigan officials …

*Auburn basketball coach Jeff Lebo says next season's team might be more talented and will certainly be more physically imposing than last year's team, but he says it would be unfair to expect too much too soon from a team that will have eight newcomers.

"Show me a team that plays a lot of freshmen and I'll show you a team that struggles a lot," Lebo said…

*Auburn offensive line coach Hugh Nall readily admits he has impressive talent on the offensive line, but he says it won't matter unless they learn to play as one.

"Right now, we've got a bunch of individuals," Nall said. "If you don't play as a team, all the talent in the world can go to waste." Going into two-a-days, Auburn's first-team offensive line will include Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick at tackles, Ben Grubbs and Tim Duckworth at guards and Steven Ross at center. But sophomore Leon Hart is pushing hard and will be difficult to keep out of the lineup come Sept. 3…

Offensive coordinator Al Borges has watched miles of film on Georgia Tech, Auburn's season-opening opponent, and has been impressed. "From what I've seen, the only defenses we played last season that might have been better were LSU and Virginia Tech," Borges said…

Until next time…

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