Will Cougs pursue blue-shirting Burnett?

MIKE LEACH SPOKE in his Signing Day press conference about how the Cougs were waiting on “a couple more." By rule, he can’t name names of student-athletes who remain recruitable. But the name of at least one of the remaining Washington State Class of 2015 targets might be found in who is reportedly “blue-shirting” at USC.

Wide receiver Deontay Burnett, who first verbally committed to WSU way back in July, didn’t sign a Letter of Intent on Wednesday. But he says he’s USC-bound and will be getting a full ride, even though USC didn't officially announce him and didn't sign him to a Letter of Intent or financial aid agreement.

How does that work? Well, it’s quite the loophole.

The NCAA allows athletes who were "not recruited" to arrive on campus as walk-ons, accept scholarships in fall camp or at a later point down the road, and be counted against the next recruiting class instead of the incoming one. The process has become known as blue-shirting.

Blue-shirting allows a school a loophole where they can effectively take more than 25 initial counters – so long as they don’t go over the 85-scholarship limit. With USC coming off sanctions, they have room under their 85-scholie limit.

Burnett on Wednesday signed what has been reported as an “Athletic Director’s Agreement” (apparently with USC Athletic Director Pat Haden). But there’s nothing binding about it – there can’t be under NCAA rules. Rather, it’s basically a way to give a prospect something to sign on Signing Day with family and friends in a high school auditorium.

To be able to blue-shirt, an athlete has to be considered to have been “not recruited” in the NCAA’s eyes. The NCAA defines a player as having been “not recruited” by a school as long as he 1) has not taken an official visit to campus, 2) had an in-home visit from the coaching staff or 3) does not sign an NLI or any kind of financial aid agreement with that school.

The so-called “Athletic Director’s Agreement” likely says Burnett and Pat Haden agree that Burnett will walk on and then get a scholie by, say, the end of fall camp. He is eligible to play in his first year and to go on scholie. But that agreement is not enforceable.

So Burnett remains a recruitable student-athlete until he gets to USC. (So does Clayton Johnston, a four-star o-lineman out of Anaheim's Servite High also reported to be going the blue-shirt route at USC. Johnson had long been a USC verbal commit and there haven’t been any indications WSU is targeting him. But Johnson remains a recruitable athlete, just like Burnett.)

By the way, schools also use another tactic in blue-shirting: instead of promising a prospect to put him on scholie in fall camp after he walks on, they’ll promise instead that they’ll have an open scholarship somewhere down the road. The athlete walks on and then pays his own way until ... the scholie opens up. There’s nothing enforceable about that, either.

Burnett by all recent indications looks to end up at USC later this summer based on his quotes in the article linked below. It sounds as if he and his parents have decided upon that tack. But he remains a recruitable student-athlete. And recruitable student-athletes, as WSU fans would attest after the past three weeks, have been known to change their minds.

The signing period that began on Wednesday doesn’t end until April 1.

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