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Oregon pulls written offer, an unsavory move that's common

After the tears of joy dried, Todd Therrien advised Xavier Ramos to take care of some serious business. Therrien, the coach at St. Bonaventure (Ventura, Calif.), told Ramos, a rising senior linebacker, to do the classy thing. He told Ramos, who had just happily accepted a written scholarship offer from Oregon, to call his other suitors -- Arizona, Army, Wyoming and others -- to tell them that he was off the market.

Two weeks later, Therrien is still waiting for Oregon coaches to call Ramos and tell him why he's back on the market. Meanwhile, Therrien has said Oregon coaches aren't welcome around his program, and Ducks head coach Mike Bellotti is getting creamed by a tidal wave of bad PR. So what happened? Oregon coaches did exactly what their colleagues at every other Football Bowl Subdivision school in the country do every year. They offered more scholarships than they had to give. And, as is often the case, a recruit got screwed.

Oregon coaches eagerly accepted the commitment from Ramos, a 6-foot, 187-pounder who changed the course of last season's California Division III state title game with a series of hits from the free safety position. With a 3.5 grade point average and a 1,550 (out of 2,400) on the SAT, Ramos is a lock to qualify academically. Not long after Ramos committed, though, Therrien got a call from Eugene. A mistake had been made, Therrien was told. Unbeknownst to the assistant who accepted the commitment from Ramos, another linebacker had committed a day earlier. The Ducks could take only one of the players, and Ramos was out. Ramos was crushed. Therrien, whose program produces several top prospects every year, was furious.

"We're finding out written offers don't mean anything," said Therrien, who also coached Darrell Scott, the class of 2008's top running back. "That's just crazy."

Unfortunately, it's business as usual. The NCAA allows schools to bring in 25 new scholarship football players a year, but some coaches hand out between 200 and 300 written offers a year. In other words, a written scholarship offer is about as valuable as a buy-one-get-one-free coupon from Wendy's. Check that. With the coupon, at least you know you're getting a burger.

Though Bellotti and his staff may seem heartless, they actually handled the Ramos situation in the second-classiest way the dysfunctional existing system allows. (The classiest would have been to honor the scholarship they offered.) Plenty of coaches would have said nothing. They would have waited until days before Signing Day, kept Ramos in their pocket as a fallback and then cut him loose when they realized they would sign their top targets.

NCAA rules forbid Bellotti and his staff from speaking about specific recruits. Oregon asked for and received a one-time exception to the rule this week to allow Bellotti to release a statement about the situation. "Another young man committed to us earlier at the same position and we didn't feel we could accept both of them," Bellotti said in the statement. "There were breakdowns in communication resulting in the situation not being handled as we would have preferred.

"We always feel it is best to notify all parties involved of our intentions early, while they still have options to pursue other opportunities, rather than wait until February when their options are limited."

In an interview with SI.com last Thursday, Bellotti explained how Oregon coaches determine the number of scholarships they offer. "If we have a spot for an athlete at one position and we have two scholarships, we might offer five to 10 people at that position for those two spots to try to get them to come to campus, to try to get them to visit officially," Bellotti said.

Bellotti said most top-tier recruits will not take an official visit without an offer. He also said his staff offers between 75 and 115 players in a given year. According to Rivals.com, 70 class of 2009 players have said they received offers from Oregon. That's good for third in the Pac-10, ahead of USC (54) and UCLA (41), but behind Arizona (136) and Stanford (98).

In many cases, the school's offer letter clearly states that offers are taken on a first-come, first-served basis. The Oregon offer letter posted on the Web site of class of 2009 quarterback prospect Tate Forcier isn't that specific, but it does contain a disclaimer of sorts. "If this offer is not accepted by a date which is agreeable to us," the letter, which is signed by Bellotti, says, "the agreement may have to be altered." Ramos committed within 48 hours of receiving the letter, so he probably assumed that clause would not apply to him.

So why hasn't Bellotti or one of his coaches called Ramos to explain all of this personally? The lack of a call has further infuriated Therrien. "Xavier is more of a man than anybody on the Oregon staff," Therrien said. "When he makes a decision, he calls people." The reason for the silence? Oregon coaches aren't allowed to call Ramos. The NCAA rulebook allows one phone call to a player between April 15 and May 31 of his junior year. After that, coaches can't call again until Sept. 1. In this case, though, Oregon coaches might be better served breaking the rule and self-reporting the violation.

Therrien is talking to anyone who calls because he wants everyone to know that Ramos is available. So take note, college coaches. A smart, dependable safety/outside linebacker hybrid who led a state-championship defense in a talent-rich area needs a scholarship. But if he's going to commit to you, you'd better commit to him.

Therrien isn't only helping Ramos in this case. He's exposing the single biggest problem in the current system of offers and commitments -- that an offer really doesn't mean anything. And college coaches wonder why players have started to believe that their commitments don't mean anything, either.

Minnesota signee Sam Maresh is scheduled to have open-heart surgery Thursday at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis to replace a faulty valve. Maresh, a linebacker from Champlin Park, Minn., was the local star whose commitment lent credibility to the rebuilding effort led by second-year Golden Gophers coach Tim Brewster.

The surgery likely isn't life-threatening, but Maresh's football future is unclear. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Maresh has elected to receive a tissue valve rather than the more durable mechanical valve because the tissue valve might allow him to return to football. The tissue valve probably would need to be replaced in 10-15 years.

Maresh hopes to return to football by 2010. No matter what, Brewster intends to keep Maresh in the program. Brewster wants Maresh to lead the Gophers into their new, on-campus stadium when it opens in 2009. "He's going to carry the flag into TCF Bank Stadium," Brewster told the Pioneer Press. "We know that for sure, whether he's playing or not."

The case of the football recruit who sued Hawaii over a yanked verbal scholarship offer still appears headed to trial. Wanda Smith, whose son, Daniel, sued in February after learning the offer he received wouldn't be honored, said a judge will rule July 9 on Hawaii's claim of sovereign immunity. If the judge rules that the school can be held liable, it would pave the way for a trial. The attorney for Hawaii's co-defendant, former Warriors assistant Jeff Reinebold, sent a letter to Smith's attorney on June 12 advising that if Smith loses the case, he could be held liable for Reinebold's attorney's fees. Smith claims that Reinebold offered a scholarship, and, after the defensive back accepted, told Smith that he shouldn't communicate with other schools. In recent years, Davidson and Northwestern have settled lawsuits brought by basketball recruits whose scholarship offers were revoked. In both of those cases, the players had written offers. Smith did not receive a written offer.

I've re-launched my blog, so feel free to check regularly for news, short takes on sports issues and the occasional completely off-topic post. The blog had a soft re-open last week with a column on a momentous event for SEC football fans and a literary critique of a fantastic essay authored by Georgia tailback/second-coming-of-Mark-Twain, Knowshon Moreno.

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