CLEMSON, SC -- In recent days, local sports talk radio has raised several questions about the admissions policies at Clemson University, specifically as they apply to student-athletes.
Most callers and some hosts (including this one) openly have questioned the school's reasoning for declaring some incoming freshmen ineligible - as happened a couple of weeks ago with a pair of Clemson football recruits - or holding up the eligibility of others by questioning test scores or other qualifying factors, as is currently the case with tight end Todd McClinton from Columbia.
Tommy Bowden wouldn't comment on McClinton's situation Monday after the first freshman practice, referring all inquiries on the matter to Clemson's Chief Public Affairs Officer Cathy Sams. Likewise, the undergraduate admissions office deferred to Sams when I called Monday afternoon.
So, taking the hint, I went after Sams and finally caught up with her at home Monday evening. During our 15 minute conversation she shed light on several aspects of the school's eligibility standards as a whole, while declining to discuss the particulars of McClinton's situation because of the confidentiality of student records.
While Sams or anyone else will not say so for the record, it appears McClinton is being held out because the university questioned the alleged dramatic rise in his SAT score the last time he took the test.
What Sams did confirm Monday night about Clemson's across-the-board policy is this:
If a student-athlete's test score jumps 300 points or more, the university automatically red-flags the score and asks the testing service to validate the score. Usually, Sams said, the score is validated with no problem.
If that's the case with McClinton, the remaining questions may concern, among other things, his core curriculum in high school, his overall high school grade point average and even where he went to high school. Any one of those elements can be enough for the Clemson admissions office to deem McClinton an unfit student for the school.
"We try to weigh all the factors and project if the student can score a 2.0 grade point average at Clemson," Sams said. "If we decide they can't, they aren't admitted."
Sams went on to say that Clemson's stringent acceptance policies are relaxed somewhat for student-athletes, compared to non-athletes. Athletes are held only to the minimum guidelines set forth by the NCAA
"That puts us in line with most of the other schools around the country," she said.
However, it turns out the NCAA Clearinghouse is not the final word in such matters.
Even if a player is cleared by the NCAA, the student still is subject to the admissions policies of the school itself. If a student-athlete is cleared by the NCAA and admitted to a school, only to have questions come up later about a test score or other qualifying factor, the school will be held liable.
That means, according to Sams, if a problem is found after the fact, the school will be hit with a major recruiting violation by the NCAA.
Finally, the last piece of the puzzle lies with the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The ACC doesn't allow non-qualifiers, which means if McClinton's problem is a test score he won't be allowed to attend an ACC school. Clemson would have no recourse against that policy.
It's all very confusing, as are most things where the NCAA is concerned. And though Sams said Clemson is in the middle of the ACC pack as far as admissions standards, you have to wonder if the conference as a whole, and the school in particular, couldn't find a better way to operate.
Marshall University, which beat Clemson in the 1999 season opener, seems to have found a way to make what appears to be a negative situation work in its favor.
Marshall accepts non-and-partial-qualifiers and enrolls them into a community college-type program at the school. In this system the athlete gets the basis for a solid education the first year, then once the academics are in order he or she is eligible for competition in the second year.
Under that structure the Thundering Herd has become a winner in the classroom as well as on the field, and has an award-winning graduation rate to prove it.
It's a program which should serve as a model to all schools, Clemson included, as the best way to marry academics and athletics.
That way the purists get their grades, and the fanatics get their wins.
And everybody - except the players actually providing the services which lead to multi-million dollar television contracts- makes money.
Dan Scott is the sports editor of the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
His columns can be read at www.dailyjournalmessenger.com.