Cottam practices, may play

Tight end Brad Cottam participated in Tennessee's Tuesday evening practice, which suggests that the Vol staff is not expecting the NCAA to grant him a sixth year of eligibility.

Brad Cottam, a 6-8, 265-pounder from Germantown, petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility shortly after suffering a preseason wrist fracture that sidelined him for the first nine games of his senior season. He now appears healthy enough to play in the three remaining regular-season games – Arkansas (Saturday), Vanderbilt (Nov. 17) and Kentucky (Nov. 24).

Cottam's career has been decimated by injuries, leading to five surgeries during his stint as a Vol. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2003, then scarcely played in 2004. An assortment of injuries limited him to 23 offensive snaps in 2005 but he bounced back to win a starting job in 2006. He appeared on the verge of a huge year in 2007 prior to the wrist injury.

Phillip Fulmer is unhappy that the NCAA has dragged its feet on Cottam's appeal. The Vols' head man thinks this case clearly merits another year of eligibility because of the significant amount of time the player has missed due to injury during his career.

"I don't think it's right," Fulmer said. "I don't think it's fair to any young person. If you have an extreme circumstance such as cancer or something like that they (NCAA brass) work with you."

The NCAA is not so sympathetic with cases like Cottam's, in which an accumulation of health problems is the cause of the inactivity.

Fulmer expected to hear from the NCAA on Monday but no word was forthcoming. That leaves the UT coach with a dilemma: Does he play Cottam Saturday vs. Arkansas and give up any hope of a favorable ruling on the appeal? Or does he withhold Cottam and gamble that the NCAA grants a sixth year?

Based on previous NCAA rulings, there is little reason for hope. Former UT quarterback Jerry Colquitt spent one year as a redshirt and three more as a little-used backup before assuming the first-team QB job in 1994. He blew out a knee on the seventh snap of the '94 season, however, and never played again. Incredibly, the NCAA denied his petition for a sixth year.

"To me, if the NCAA were truly student/athlete-friendly, they would look at each of these situations (on an individual basis)," Fulmer said, adding that Cottam is an honors student who wants to remain at UT and work on his masters degree.

The coach noted that Cottam has missed "all or part" of four seasons during his first five years in the program. Still, Fulmer is not expecting a favorable ruling ... mostly because of those 23 snaps Cottam played in 2005.

"They try to throw a blanket over everybody," Fulmer said of NCAA brass. "They really should look at it individually in my opinion – not just when a guy misses a whole year."

Ultimately, the Vol coach said the NCAA only grants a sixth year of eligibility to players who "fit that window and, to me, the window's too narrow."

Fulmer said SEC commissioner Mike Slive has championed Cottam's cause before the NCAA. Still, there appears to be little reason for optimism.

"He really wasn't very encouraging, either," Fulmer said, "because of the history."

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