State Tracking Freshmen OKs From Clearinghouse

The calendar claims that official summer has barely begun. Right, try telling that to Mississippi State's athletic compliance office. As far as Bracky Brett and Tyler Hill are concerned this is their busy season, because the compliance coordinators face a July 5 target date to get Coach Sylvester Croom's freshman Bulldogs cleared for summer school.

With less than two weeks left before the second term begins, Brett is confident both his office and almost all of the pups in question won't only meet but beat the deadline. "Right now, for mid-June, we're in pretty good shape."

Not ideal shape, perhaps, but then of course few dealings with the NCAA's designated clearinghouse go entirely smoothly, much less on a school's schedule. The clearinghouse, which determines initial eligibility for incoming student-athletes in all NCAA sports, operates by its own calendar and can rarely be rushed.

But all things considered, Brett is comfortable with the status of Croom's 2005 recruiting class. For one thing, every single signee is already set for the upcoming academic year. "We've got them all registered," Brett said. Now all that is left is for the clearinghouse to certify each individual as eligible to report to school and, in August, begin practicing for the season.

"We're getting some (certifications) every day. We had about 12 or 13 cleared the other day," Brett said. He was referring to scholarship freshmen specifically; walk-ons also have to be certified by the clearinghouse before they can participate, and the compliance office is tracking these new volunteer Bulldogs as well.

"Tyler checks every day, he's working with the clearinghouse and counselors and the kids on getting transcripts from the high schools here in June."

There is a sense of urgency as these certifications dribble in, usually one-by-one through the day. July 5 is looming large in the minds of both compliance coordinators and Mississippi State coaches, who definitely want to spend what time the NCAA allows in July meeting with the newest Bulldogs, talking about expectations and opportunities for their rookie season and just settling the kids into an entirely new life. But until the clearinghouse gives their certification of initial eligibility, no new signee can show up for summer school.

Or at least no spring high school graduate. Eligible juco signees can and defensive lineman Antonio Johnson indeed is already on campus for the first summer semester. So is Keith Fitzhugh, a rare winter high school graduate who enrolled for the spring semester and sent through spring camp. As to the other 24 February signees? "None of our freshmen are here right now," Brett said. "But we hope to have as many as possible in July. July 5. I think we're getting them cleared."

Fans might be surprised that some true freshmen aren't already on the MSU campus, lifting weights and running and getting to know his coaches and varsity teammates. There is a very good reason—opening of the first summer college semester practically coincides with June's round of high school graduations. Even if the dates don't effectively overlap, there is simply no time to turn in the necessary paperwork to the clearinghouse and get a freshman certified for the first summer semester.

"It would be practically impossible with summer school starting so close to high school graduation," Brett noted. Besides, college coaches worry about youngsters jumping directly from high school finals to college classes without some sort of break. By next spring there would be the obvious possibility of burnout.

The second summer term is another matter, thus the rush to get everyone certified by July 5 this year. "Obviously we're trying to clear them. In the old days we just tried to get them in time for two-a-days. Now we want them to come to summer school and now they can be on scholarship."

That is a major change in how the NCAA does summer business. Until this year even eligible, certified, and registered freshmen had to wait until the fall semester to begin receiving their athletic scholarship. If they came to any summer term they paid their own way to lodge, eat, and take classes. It was an obvious strain on the kids and their families, especially with football (along with some volleyball and soccer) coaches wanting every roster player possible on campus in the weeks leading up to preseason workouts. Interestingly, basketball players could start receiving aid in summer but football could not.

Fortunately the NCAA has acknowledged reality. "The difference this year is that we can bring them in to summer school in July on scholarship wit the new legislation," Brett explained. "It added summer aid for incoming freshmen. In the past it was just basketball, now it's open to all sports." Though, he does not expect a rush of other athletes coming to campus in July. Only the true fall sports will be affected.

As far as where the gridiron rookie class of '05 stands in certifications, Brett is pleased with the pace of certifications. Hill monitors clearinghouse reports all through the day on-line, not only checking for certified Bulldogs but scanning for potential problems. There is a public misunderstanding on how freshman eligibility is determined; State and other colleges cannot submit the signee's academic information, for obvious reasons.

It is up to the athlete and his high school to turn in the needed paperwork, such as final transcripts, proof of graduation, and so on. Not surprisingly items get forgotten or misplaced, or are just not available if the high school officials are out of town or move. Given that it might be a wonder that most kids do get certified on time. Here the colleges monitor the process, again on-line, and provide needed prompting.

"We can go online at any time," Brett said. "We're looking for students with missing documentation so we can try to get that sent in and so the clearinghouse can look at it." And, hopefully, find everything in order and certify the youngster to begin his Bulldog career this coming second semester.

"We're a little over halfway there with our initial kids," said Brett. "We hopefully will have three-fourths of them by Monday. Hopefully! But you never know what might happen when you're dealing with the clearinghouse."

As to ultimate eligibilities, Brett could not comment or confirm where all the Mississippi State freshmen stand and who might not make the certification cut for either July or the fall semester. It is known that three of the 26 February recruits are not expected to report. Defensive lineman Jessie Bowman of Brookhaven High School; defensive lineman Louis Ellis of Jackson-Lanier High School; and running back Tim Holloway of Seminary High School are not listed on the official preseason football roster. Of course MSU's agreement with the NCAA regarding sanctions on the football program imposed last fall cut two scholarships from the annual signing class limit of 25, and these three non-qualifiers mean State meets the quota.

As to the 21 other incoming freshmen (not counting Fitzhugh and juco Johnson) indications are that only two face any difficulties in certification. Linebacker Archie Sims of Laurel-West Jones High School and defensive back Anthony Johnson of Jackson-Provine High School reportedly will cut it close to meeting eligibility standards on the ‘sliding scale' of grade average and test score. There are no reports that either will fall under special certification circumstances, so both must have the clearinghouse accept their final GPA and test score.

The last ACT date for 2005-06 eligibilty has already passed, and ‘core' GPAs have also been locked in for all high school graduates.

Reporting date for all certified freshmen and new walk-ons, as well as varsity Bulldogs, is August 3 with preseason practices starting on the next day.

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