National Columnist

Blue-chipper's scholarship proposal to Clemson isn't noble, it's indecent


Nkemdiche says his commitment to Clemson is a 'done deal' if his friend gets offered. (Dan Carter/MaxPreps)  
Nkemdiche says his commitment to Clemson is a 'done deal' if his friend gets offered. (Dan Carter/MaxPreps)    

It's like we've entered some bizarro world where down is up, wrong is right, and high school senior Robert Nkemdiche is a hero for trying to extort Clemson into giving his buddy a football scholarship.

What Nkemdiche is trying to do is wrong, and more than just wrong -- which is obviously an opinion, and therefore up for debate -- it's against the spirit of the NCAA rulebook. And that's not an opinion. That's a fact.

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There's a way around that fact, just like there's a way around almost every NCAA rule in the book, but it's a fact nonetheless. The NCAA wouldn't allow Clemson to give Robert Nkemdiche's buddy a $37,000 car to win Nkemdiche's signature on scholarship papers. Why would the NCAA let Clemson give Nkemdiche's buddy a $37,000 education for the same purpose?

(This is where we enter that murky territory of package deals, whether it's a school signing a recruit's buddy or hiring a recruit's father. It happens. All the time. It happens because schools are sleazy and the NCAA is lazy. But it seems a fairly clear violation of NCAA rules, a violation the NCAA hasn't found a way to stop or even penalize. Boggles my mind, but that's where we are on that point. And don't give me, "Lots of people do it, so it's OK." Lots of people cheat the IRS. Lots of people drink and drive. Lots of people get away with lots of things. That doesn't make those things OK.)

So this is wrong, a big-time recruit named Robert Nkemdiche trying to finagle a scholarship for a much smaller-time recruit named ... wait, you know what? I'm not going to make it worse for the much smaller-time recruit by naming him. It's not (name redacted)'s fault that Nkemdiche is trying to leverage his status into a scholarship for a friend. He doesn't deserve the scrutiny that has come, and will get worse, because of this. Google doesn't forget, so this will follow (name redacted) wherever he goes, and while I'm not exactly saving (name redacted) that anguish by refusing to print his name, I'd rather not add to his woes. This isn't his fault.

It's not Clemson's fault, either. Not yet, anyway. If Clemson offers (name redacted) a scholarship? Well, sure. Then it would be Clemson's fault, because giving (name redacted) a $37,000 scholarship just to win the services of Nkemdiche would violate the spirit of the NCAA rulebook.

Would the NCAA have the gumption, the nerve, to pursue Clemson? No, probably not. The NCAA would hide behind the same thing that Clemson fans are hiding behind now: Maybe (name redacted) is worth the scholarship on his own merit!

Which is garbage. Until last week, (name redacted) was indeed a Division I football recruit, but not at Clemson's level. Clemson recruits from the back of the menu, choosing between filet mignon and lobster tail. Until this week, (name redacted) was at the front of the menu with the chicken fingers and potato skins. He was listed as a two-star recruit by some services, with offers from non-BCS schools Arkansas State, Georgia State, Southern Miss and Tulane.

(Name redacted) also was offered by one BCS school, but put an asterisk on that sucker. The school is Ole Miss, which was surely working its own angle to get Nkemdiche -- whose older brother already plays for the Rebels.

Would I put it past new Rebels coach Hugh Freeze to conjure up a package deal? No. Hugh Freeze is a college coach because of a package deal. He was the guy who coached Mr. Blind Side, Michael Oher, in high school ... and then followed him to Ole Miss in 2005 as the school's new assistant athletic director for football external affairs.

That's Package Deal 101.

And now comes Package Deal 201, a package suggested by the recruit himself. Robert Nkemdiche seems to be a smart young man, and with Clemson's help he has seen how the system works. Oh, right -- Clemson isn't completely blameless here, not after taking commitments from two of Nkemdiche's teammates at Grayson (Ga.) High, running back Wayne Gallman and defensive back David Kamara, and accepting as an invited walk-on a third, quarterback Nick Schuessler, who bolted from Mississippi State once the Grayson-to-Clemson pipeline started gushing. Recruiting experts agree, Gallman is worthy of the scholarship to Clemson. Kamara? Probably not. (Name redacted)? Absolutely not.

Nkemdiche is going for it anyway. Or he was, until he told the New York Times on Sunday that he's not trying to extort anybody, that he will go to Clemson whether the Tigers offer a scholarship to (name redacted) or not. That's a nice touch, but it's too late. Nkemdiche said what he said, and Clemson's coach and fans know he said it, and nearly seven months remain until signing day. A lot can change in seven months, but Clemson already has been told what it would take to make Nkemdiche a done deal.

If Clemson falls for it, this would be an unprecedented five-for-one package deal, one of the ugliest things in college football in a long time, yet people think this whole story is great. The billion-dollar college football system screws the labor, so people are loving it now that this one laborer, Nkemdiche, is trying to screw the system right back. Because two wrongs apparently equal one right.

This is the bizarro world I mentioned earlier. College football writers, smart ones like Bruce Feldman of and Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, are OK with this whole thing. Feldman wrote about Nkemdiche's request and noted that "he probably is worth it for Clemson." Staples went further, ridiculing anti-Nkemdiche arguments and concluding his story: "bless Nkemdiche for using all the juice he has before it runs dry."

Because college football is a cesspool, it's OK that Nkemdiche is pumping more sludge into the deep end? Nonsensical. Bizarro. But I'm in the minority. Feldman, Staples, John Walters of The Daily -- smart folks are in favor of Nkemdiche's scummy request. They see nothing wrong with a recruit using his NFL-level potential to muscle Clemson into giving $37,000 in goods and services to a Tulane-level buddy.

This is where we are in college sports: It's hopelessly dirty, so let's play in the mud!

Your move, Clemson. Nkemdiche and (name redacted) are waiting. The world is watching. The cesspool is beckoning. You're already in the cesspool -- but how deep do you want to go?

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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