Meal May Hurt Donte's Appeal

An apparently innocent dinner with sports agent Jimmy Sexton last Thursday could damage Vol receiver Donte' Stallworth's chances of regaining his senior season of football eligibility.

Hours after calling a news conference to announce that he would forgo his senior season to make himself eligible for the NFL draft, Stallworth and senior tailback Travis Stephens had dinner at the Chop House in West Knoxville. Sexton, a former Vol equipment manager who now ranks among the NFL's most successful agents, picked up the tab.

Sexton, Stephens and Stallworth have been interviewed about the meeting. All three insist there was no agreement — oral or written — between Stallworth and Sexton. Stallworth has since mailed a check reimbursing Sexton for his portion of the meal. Still, the dinner raises an eligibility issue that could hurt Stallworth's case for reinstatement.

NCAA Bylaw 12.3 says that at a minimum, the student-athlete will be required to repay the value of the impermissible benefits and will be withheld from a certain number of contests, based on case precedent.

Clearly, even if Stallworth's senior year of eligibility is restored, he will almost certainly sit out several games as a penalty. As noted in earlier stories, Michigan State offensive lineman Tony Mandarich had to serve a three-game suspension in 1988 for an incident similar to Stallworth's.

While UT officials pursue his appeal, Stallworth is enrolled in classes at UT, keeping himself academically eligible in case the NCAA rules him athletically eligible again. His wait could be a long one.

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