Last month, Boise State commitment Emil Smith, 18, and his brother were killed in a late-night car crash in Hemet, Calif. Police said Smith was a passenger in a Dodge Neon that lost control, crossed a highway median and crashed head-on into an oncoming minivan, then caught on fire. Smith was pulled from the Dodge and pronounced dead at a local hospital about an hour later; his brother, 22-year-old Dmitri Garcia, was trapped in the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. The 38-year-old driver of the minivan and his juvenile son were hospitalized with moderate injuries.
Smith, rated by Rivals as a three-star defensive end going into his senior year of high school, was still more than a year away from enrolling at Boise State. But he'd committed to play for the Broncos less than a month earlier, and coaches had come to know him well through recruiting. Per the NCAA rulebook, though, the school was forbidden from acknowledging Smith's death in any way – no phone calls, no flowers, no funeral – without somehow running afoul of recruiting bylaws. According to the Idaho Statesman, they were still prohibited from even mentioning Smith's name to reporters:
Because Smith had not signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI) – signing day is in February – Boise State coaches could not comment on Smith.
They could not attend his funeral. They could not send flowers. They could not call his grieving parents or any other family members.
"There was nothing the school could do," said Scott Hobbs, Boise State's assistant athletic director for compliance.
Hobbs said the Broncos contacted officials at other schools, the Western Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference to discuss their options.
The answer was the same. [...]
No phone calls are allowed from a team to players or their families from between June 1 and Aug. 31, Hobbs said, meaning no Boise State coach could call Smith's parents.
Since no off-campus contact is allowed – and since Smith's funeral was to be attended by his teammates (or, in NCAA parlance, recruitable athletes) – even the funeral was off-limits.
The NCAA was operating on a minor level of obtuse paranoia when it barred Georgia coach Mark Richt from fulfilling his promise to attend a recruit's speech at his high school graduation. Drawing a line around a grieving family and funeral – upholding the sanctity of the bureaucracy above a basic function of human society – is on another level entirely. Not that a few condolences from Smith's future coaches would do anything to alleviate the tragedy of the situation. But in this case, if I was Boise State, there are a few secondary violations I'd consider it an obligation to commit.
[UPDATE, 4:27 p.m. ET] The NCAA reponds that it would have been willing to grant a waiver, but Boise never asked for one:
"Boise State University contacted the NCAA on July 19 regarding providing support to the family. The NCAA compliance staff informed the university on July 20 it could seek a waiver and there is considerable past precedent for granting such waivers. The university chose not to seek a waiver, which would have been granted immediately. In the past 12 months alone, the NCAA has received and granted five waivers to institutions during similar difficult and unfortunate circumstances."
Hobbs responded to the Idaho Statesman that the school had reviewed previous waivers with the new compliance director for the WAC (who had just come from the NCAA), and determined they didn't apply to Boise's situation because the players in question in those cases had all signed letters of intent with their respective schools:
"The whole gist of it is whether or not the prospect had signed a National Letter of Intent. If he had, then all the rules that go along with commenting on his athletic ability and how he could have contributed to Bronco football would have kicked in," Hobbs said. "... That is the line of delineation."