I realize six months is an ice age in Internet time, but fans who can still remember as far back as six months may recall a time when Jeremiah Masoli was considered a somewhat serious Heisman contender. If the trophy was awarded for "Most Outstanding Destroyer of Expectations," he'd have had it sewn up months ago, beginning with the theft arrest and subsequent suspension that knocked Oregon from the ranks of potential championship favorites in the spring. The traffic-stop citations that led to his outright dismissal from the team in June clinched the title.
So the startling announcement Tuesday that Masoli has been denied permission by the NCAA to take the field for Ole Miss this fall, after he and the university went to such great lengths to get him enrolled in grad school in Oxford in time to join the team for the start of fall practices a month ago, is just the bitter cherry on top. Not that the Rebels have any intention of swallowing the ruling without a fight:
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — The NCAA has denied Mississippi quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's request for a waiver that would allow him to play immediately, meaning the former Oregon standout won't be eligible until 2011.
Mississippi officials announced Tuesday plans to the appeal the ruling, with a response expected in less than one week.
"I'm just shocked and disappointed," Masoli said. "I've done everything I can to follow the rules."
Mississippi athletic director Pete Boone said the decision was "subjective" and expected a successful appeal.
"There is no question in my mind Jeremiah is in the right place," Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said. "We're in the people-helping business. I want to plead with that subcommittee. He's done nothing but what he's supposed to do."
Well, nothing except that time he went along with a teammate committing theft in January, or the time he was caught behind the wheel without a valid license less than six months later, in a car containing marijuana. Dedicated people-helper though he may be, Nutt didn't pull every string at his disposal to get Masoli into UM's graduate Parks and Recreation Department because he felt sorry for the kid. He did it explicitly to upgrade a red-siren position for his team going into the season, after the transfer of top backup Raymond Cotton forced him to reconsider his decision to rebuff Masoli's initial overtures a few weeks earlier.
Now, the mantel falls officially to sophomore Nathan Stanley (right), regarded for most of the offseason as the most obscure in a relatively middling crop of SEC starters, and JUCO transfer Randall Mackey – in other words, the uncertain situation that led conference media to pick the Rebels to finish dead last in the SEC West last month.
That will be fine this Saturday against Jacksonville State, and the following week against Tulane, too, by which point Masoli may have earned yet another reprieve – after all, as the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's Rick Cleveland pointed out before the ruling Tuesday morning, "The NCAA rules are clear. Masoli meets the criteria. He already has his undergraduate degree [from Oregon]. He will pursue at Ole Miss a graduate degree that isn't offered at his former school, Oregon." If the NCAA sticks by its guns despite the university's best efforts to hew to its guidelines, it's setting a clear precedent that waivers are a privilege, not a right, and won't be taken advantage of to create a loophole for free agency.
In the meantime, Masoli finds himself in exactly the same position he was in between his suspension and dismissal at Oregon: Forced to sit for the entire 2010 season, with an opportunity to redshirt and return for his final year of eligibility in 2011. And if Stanley or Mackey is an unlikely revelation this fall, locking down the job beyond any doubt going into next year? That's just tough luck, I guess. And Masoli will have no one but himself to blame.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.