The feel-good story of UGA’s 2009 recruiting class is Chris Burnette.
Not only is he one of the nation’s top-rated offensive linemen, he is also a valedictorian candidate at Troup High School. UGA coach Mark Richt told Burnette he was the first valedictorian he had ever recruited. He also said that if Burnette got to speak at graduation, that he would do his best to be there in person to hear it.
Richt’s vow earned Georgia, and college football in general, a wave of good publicity. Then the big and bad NCAA got in the way.
As it turned out, it would be against the rules for Richt to attend the celebration of his recruit’s academic achievements. Richt, being the nice guy he is, felt bad about not being permitted to go but said he would still listen to the speech via a videotaped copy.
That’s where things stand right now. And now is where I think Richt should consider taking a stand … in the name of academics. If Lane Kiffin is throwing around secondary violations like mulligans in golf (for example, talking about Bryce Brown on a radio show, and then still being able to sign BB), then Richt should consider taking one. And this one would be for all the right reasons.
The national headlines would read “SEC football coach gets in trouble for showing up at valedictorian ceremony for blue-chip recruit.” Wouldn’t that be nice for a change, rather than all the negative things happening in sports. As we know, much too often, the word “student” is rarely mentioned in student-athletes. If Mark Richt was ever going to intentionally take a secondary violation (nothing more than a slap on the wrist), then this would be the most perfect one.
You might even have other prospects dare to invite their future college coach to come to their graduations, too. The coach can tell the prospect, “Hey if you make the grades and earn valedictorian honors, then it’s a done deal. I’ll be there.” What a wonderful trend it would be to start. Maybe even the NCAA would come to its senses and write up a special exemption for this type of situation. You know, to encourage academic success among the high school athletes of all sports.
Would Richt consider breaking the rules? Highly unlikely. But maybe he’ll surprise us. Actually, Richt could attend Burnette’s graduation without breaking any rules. According to an expert on the NCAA rules, all Richt would need to do is request a special waiver, which would likely be granted.
Now an update on Burnette: The offensive lineman who has made nothing but A’s since kindergarten is down to his final five weeks of classes. He has a 5.12 GPA and is in the running with two others for the school’s No. 1 academic honor. Graduation is scheduled for May 23 at Troup.
“It’s still looking good,” Burnette told the AJC. “[School officials] told me either way, that I should be speaking at graduation. We’ll have the final results of everything sometime soon.”
“That would be really cool if Coach Richt could make it. But I know he has a lot going on. However, it meant the world to me and my family that he even considered coming that day. There were a lot of people around school getting excited about it.”
People should get excited about academic achievements. And anybody, whether they are a football coach, fireman or doctor, should be able to join in the excitement.