As the NCAA moves toward tougher entrance requirements for student-athletes and attempts to change the “sports are king” culture, another mini-controversy has arisen involving an SEC school, a high school prospect, and the question of just how real some academic transcripts are.
You see, Darius Paige of Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida is transferring to Foley High School which is closer to Mobile, Alabama. Paige is an Alabama commitment. And Washington assistant coach George Schellang told The Pensacola News Journal that Bama assistant Jeremy Pruitt steered the player to Foley because Bama “had people there to help” Paige academically:
“Today, (Darius’) dad came in and withdrew him. He just came in and cleared out his locker. I saw the withdrawal form and it said he was withdrawing to attend Foley High. All of his transcripts are being sent to Foley…
Darius came in the office one day during the summer after coach (Mike) Smith left and sat down and told me coach Pruitt, who is the Alabama coach who was recruiting him, wanted him to go to Foley High School. Basically, he said (Foley High) could take care of him academically.
My reaction was shock and dismay that a Division I coach would tell a high school athlete that he needed to transfer, that they had people there to help…
My concern is the only one that will get hurt is going to be him. He’s a great kid and we love him. He’s a very nice young man. In the end, I think he’s going to be the one that gets hurt.”
Okay, now let’s just flush out the arguments that Tide fans will make in blind defense of their school (in the same way other fans of other schools would blindly support their team):
1. The Washington assistant is just mad that he’s losing a player and he’s making stuff up.
2. The Washington assistant said “basically” in his quote so he’s just summarizing what a player told him and both he and the player could have misinterpreted what Pruitt actually told Paige.
3. Maybe “could take care of him academically” means Alabama knows Foley to be a better school with better teachers and academic advisors than Washington.
Yep, all could be possible. But anyone who knows anything about college football recruiting knows that there’s nothing unusual about prospects getting academic “help” in order to achieve NCAA eligibility. And recruiting followers also know that certain colleges have stronger ties to some high schools than others. Personally, having seen/heard cases of these types of things happening with other SEC commitments, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to learn that an Alabama assistant did tell an Alabama commitment to transfer because he knew people at another high school who could help him with his grades.
As for Foley High, Todd Watson — the school’s defensive coordinator — told The PNJ that he wasn’t aware that Paige intended to transfer. For the record, Watson once coached at Hoover High School in Alabama with… Alabama’s Pruitt.
Watson — who also told the Mobile Press-Register that Foley High has “not recruited the kid” and “did nothing wrong” — said Paige will still have to prove that he’s making a “bona fide” move before he can do anything athletically at Foley. Becoming officially “bona fide” is a four-part process according to the Alabama High School Athletic Association. (Apparently, the little Wharvey gals can’t just vouch for the kid.)
In case you’re wondering, Schellang says the AHSAA and the NCAA have already been made aware of the story:
“Our athletic director (Troy Faucheaux) has done his duties as an AD and reported everything he needed to report. He has notified the AHSAA, but has not gotten a phone call back.”
If Paige does wind up playing for Foley, he’ll be following in the footsteps of other recent Bama standouts like Julio Jones, DJ Fluker and Robert Lester. But Watson doesn’t want anyone thinking his old cohort Pruitt is steering players his way or that his school is aiding athletes’ transcripts illegally:
“That’ all nonsense…
(The accusation) insinuated that we just give away grades (and) that’s obviously not the case.”
I don’t know if Foley High gives away grades or if Pruitt steers players — including Paige — in Foley’s direction. I do know, however, that many high schools across the South have absolutely finagled grades and transcripts in order to get their players’ scholarships. It’s happened for years and it will go on happening regardless of the NCAA’s attempts to “change the culture.”
Getting players into college — especially the biggest-name school in a state — is good business for high school coaches. The more stars they produce, the more they themselves can move up the coaching ladder. So anyone suggesting that there’s not even a possibility of impropriety here is burying his head pretty deep in the ol’ sand. It’s possible. It’s not proven. But it’s certainly possible.
This kind of thing goes on a lot more than many people want to believe. Whether “this kind of thing” is actually what happened in the case of Paige’s move from Washington to Foley, well, that’ll be up for the ASHAA and the NCAA to eventually decide. If they decide to look into the matter at all.
UPDATE — A University of Alabama spokesperson has declined to comment on the situation (because doing so would be an NCAA violation in itself). Meanwhile, The Mobile Press-Register reports that Foley High’s block schedule would allow a student — Paige — to earn up to eight credits in a school year as opposed to the six credits the same student could grab at Washington High. In that case, it would make sense for a player needing to make academic improvements to switch to a school that offers more potential credits and more room for improvement.
So, does that mean that Schellang misunderstood what he summarized as Paige’s Foley “could take care of him academically” comment? Only Paige and Schellang know exactly what was said in their meeting. Until the NCAA or ASHAA get involved — if they get involved — you can expect one side to continue to say “there’s nothing fishy here” while the other will repeat, “oh, yes there is.”