LSU punished for violating recruiting rule after prospect backs out
BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU football program will have recruiting privileges taken away for the second time in four years.
Because LSU apparently continued to engage in unlimited contact with offensive tackle Matt Womack, a prospective early enrollee from Senatobia, Miss., after he changed his mind about signing with LSU last fall and signed with Alabama, the Southeastern Conference has punished LSU.
The league ruled that LSU can no longer sign early enrollees to financial aid agreements for the next two years, and the SEC is cutting 21 of the program’s 210 evaluation days of high school and junior college prospects in the current year, according to public records obtained by the Baton Rouge Advocate. LSU signed five early enrollees for the class of 2015, including Kevin Toliver II – the No. 3 cornerback in the nation out of Jacksonville, Fla.
LSU athetic director Joe Alleva and football coach Les Miles had no comment on the SEC’s ruling on Thursday, but the school may be considering a possible appeals process.
LSU reported the violation to the SEC on Feb. 3 – the day before national signing day. Womack (6-foot-7, 330 pounds) signed with Alabama the next day. He is considered the No. 67 offensive tackle in the nation and the No. 17 prospect in Mississippi out of Magnolia Heights High School. Among the other schools that offered him scholarships were Florida, Ohio State, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi, Louisville, Memphis, Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Monroe.
Womack signed a financial aid agreement with LSU last August with a plan to enroll at LSU in January of 2015. He committed to the Tigers during a visit in July. According to NCAA rules, at the point Womack signed with LSU, LSU coaches and other staff members could have unlimited contact with him since he planned to be an early enrollee. Contact with other unsigned prospects is very restricted in a given year.
That rule has a curious risk or loophole attached, though, because if the signee changes his mind about school A and goes to a school B, school A – or in this case LSU – can be punished for the unlimited contact privileges it had in the first place.
A Sept. 15, 2014, story in Gannett’s Jackson (Miss.) Clarion Ledger quoted Womack’s father, David Womack, saying that LSU was concerned with this very loophole.
“LSU is not using (unlimited contact) because if Matt was to change his mind, LSU would have to report it,” the elder Womack said, foreshadowing what happened.
In the end, Womack’s decision gave Alabama a recruiting win over LSU and gave Alabama and all other LSU recruiting opponents a signing advantage over the Tigers concerning future early enrollees for two years as well as 21 more days to evaluate prospects this year.
In July of 2011, the NCAA sentenced the LSU football program to a year of probation and took away two scholarships for multiple major violations concerning the recruitment, transportation and housing of 2009 defensive end signee Akiem Hicks of Sacramento City Community College in California. Hicks never played for LSU and left after the 2009 fall semester, transferring to Regina College in Saskatchewan, Canada, and was picked by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the NFL Draft in 2012. He made 41 tackles with two sacks last season.
After the 2009 season, Miles fired LSU wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy, who recruited Hicks and broke NCAA rules concerning the number of phone calls to him as well as improper housing at other athletes’ residences. McCarthy was the director of player personnel at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the 2014 season after serving as its wide receivers coach in 2012 and ’13.
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