Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

After Preston Parker's midnight ride cost him a roster spot in February, I reviewed Florida State's relative lack of returning playmakers, and Corey Surrency played a prominent role in the analysis. Surrency was only an occasional player in FSU's offense in his first year out of El Camino (Calif.) Community College, but he did average almost 20 yards with four touchdowns on just 12 catches, flashing some of the talent that made him one of the most sought-after JUCO transfers in the country. His size, speed and hype make him an obvious candidate for a senior breakout this fall.

Talent notwithstanding, that fate hasn't always been a foregone conclusion: Surrency, 24, grew up in rough part of Miami, dropped out of school in ninth grade and later spent 90 days in jail for what the Orlando Sentinel describes as "various crimes," including felonies. After prison, Surrency earned his diploma, played a season with a "minor league" team, Tampa's Miami's Florida Kings of the Southeast Football League, and eventually headed cross-country to El Camino, where he caught on and earned scholarship offers from all over the country. Whether or not he makes any more waves on the field, that's a success story -- or it was, until, as the Sentinel reports today, the narrative met one of the more obscure corners of the NCAA rulebook:

The rule is No. 14.2.3.5 in the NCAA Division I Manuel [sic]. It is titled, "Participation After 21st Birthday," and it mandates the following: If an individual participates in an organized sport after his 21st birthday, but before enrolling in college, that participation "shall count as one year of varsity competition in that sport."
[...]
Surrency played with the Kings after he had turned 21. Had he not, he might never have had the chance to go to college. Regardless, though, his time with the Kings has cost him his final year of eligibility — at least for now. Florida State is appealing on Surrency's behalf.

If FSU loses the appeal, Surrency's college football career would be over. It's likely, too, that [with the loss of his athletic scholarship] his pursuit of earning a degree in criminal justice — Surrency would become the first member of his family to earn a college degree — would also be over.

The rule, said NCAA spokesman Jennifer Kearns, is designed to "to minimize competitive advantage" by ensuring a "normal progression" through high school and the entry to college. Surrency, because his high school career was interrupted, got into the system too late.

Obviously, the rule is not designed to necessarily cater to individual athletes' best interests, which in Surrency's case is to remain in school another year and earn his degree, like anyone else in his situation who has the will, the means and the grades. It's tone-deaf bureaucracy par excellence: If the rule didn't exist, no one would think to look for it; no one would think twice about any practical, non-bureaucratic issues, or feel the need to think up some kind of tangible problem that would result from Surrency finishing out the usual string. If he'd joined the Florida Kings at 19 or 20 years old, no one would bat an eye. Hell, if the sport in question was minor league baseball -- as it was for a certain winner of a certain trophy a few years ago -- he'd be in the clear.

But, the rules being what they are, Surrency waits while his teammates go through spring practice, telling reporter Andrew Carter, "It's killing me, man. I'm losing my fight for the game right now," while the NCAA takes its time to decide whether its bureaucracy is more sacred than a kid's best chance to finish his degree.

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UPDATE [12:25 pm ET, 4/06] To be clear, the post refers to the Florida Kings of the Southeast Football League, not, as originally stated, the Florida Kings of the Southern Indoor Football League, which begin play this season.

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