Thursday, June 24, 2010

Seantrel Henderson isn't so sure anymore

If anybody really got screwed in the whole USC fiasco, it's the recruits who signed on with Lane Kiffin just two months before the penalties were handed down. None of those players knew how bad things would be (although they must have had some idea that there'd be serious punishment), and they can't be too happy now that they won't be able to play in a bowl until at least their junior year and probably won't ever seriously compete for a national title.

Uber-recruit Seantrel Henderson, for example, is less than thrilled:

National offensive player of the year Seantrel Henderson might be wavering on his intent to enroll at Southern California after the school was dealt severe NCAA sanctions.

Henderson, an offensive tackle from Cretin-Derham in St. Paul, Minn., skipped a scheduled orientation last week which prompted Trojans coach Lane Kiffin and three members of his staff to fly to Minnesota earlier this week.

Henderson's father, Sean, spoke to USA TODAY and said he could not comment on the situation.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press did manage to squeeze a comment out of him ... kind of:
Playing in a pro-am basketball league Tuesday night, Henderson was asked about his status with USC.

"I don't want to talk about that," Henderson said according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Henderson was smart back in February. He decided to wait to sign a letter of intent until after the penalties had been announced -- and he could do this because he was either the No. 1 or No. 2 overall prospect in the country (depending on which scouting service you prefer), so teams would wait for him. He could've waited until August if he wanted to. But for some reason, about six weeks after Signing Day (and after several meetings with Lane Kiffin), he gave in and signed. Good choice, right?

So now he's got a couple of not-so-exciting options:

1. He can play out the string at USC, possibly start as a freshman and have a good shot at being a first-round pick in a few years -- but probably never experience college "glory," so to speak.
2. He can transfer. Since there's not a chance in hell USC will grant him an immediate release, he'll have to sit out a year (essentially a redshirt year) and then will have four years to play wherever he wants.

Where would he go? His other finalists were Ohio State and Miami, but he'd also visited Notre Dame, Michigan and Minnesota and had offers from literally every major program. It's not like he'll have to go somewhere with limited exposure if he decides to leave -- he'll just miss out on the chance to start as a freshman and accelerate his NFL timeline. In other words, his decision will tell us whether it's college or the NFL that Henderson's really looking forward to.

We should know one way or another in the next two months since I assume he'll want to be settled by the start of the season. Either Kiffin will salvage the biggest (literally) and best prospect in his 2010 class -- which is crucial since USC will be limited to 15 scholarships in each of the next two classes -- or Christmas will come early for some other big-time program.

On a related note, I have no idea why more prospects don't disregard the letter of intent. It provides no benefit for the student-athlete; all it does is lock the player into a particular school. The school can withdraw the scholarship offer at any time and has no obligation to provide four years of aid (just ask Alabama). It's a one-year-at-a-time deal. The fine print basically says, "We can screw you over whenever we want if we decide to give your scholarship to somebody else. Sorry." Actually, I don't think it says "sorry." I'll double-check.

But if you're a recruit with a choice between 20 or 30 BCS conference schools, why sign a letter of intent? Nobody's gonna turn you away and NOT offer you a scholarship if you want to come -- it's just a matter of whether you lock yourself in. And if the school isn't locked in for four years of aid, the player shouldn't be locked in either.

Example: Mitch Mustain. He was the top QB recruit in the country in 2006 and picked the local school, Arkansas, only to be immersed in craziness almost immediately upon his arrival. He transferred to get away from it and (coincidentally) ended up at USC, where he had to sit out a year. Had he not signed a letter of intent with Arkansas, he would have been eligible to play in 2007 at USC and might have beaten out Mark Sanchez as John David Booty's backup. It's very possible that he'd have been the starter in '08 and '09 and would have been a first-round pick in April's draft. Instead he's spending his senior year on the bench behind Matt Barkley. I'm not saying with any certainty that things would have gone differently for him, just that I'm sure he'd like to know what would have happened in '07 (and beyond) if he'd have been eligible.

That's obviously a rare scenario, but the same holds true for just about any five-star prospect. Considering all the possible issues that could come up -- coaching changes, NCAA penalties, lack of playing time, etc. -- why risk penalizing yourself for a possible transfer if you don't need to? It's a screwy, one-sided system.

Seantrel Henderson knew it and shouldn't have signed. I'm just curious about whether he's more upset with Lane Kiffin's crazy recruiting voodoo or his own decision to give up on what was a pretty smart plan to avoid all the letter-of-intent restrictions.

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