It looks like Georgia coach Mark Richt won’t be attending Troup High School’s graduation after all.
Georgia officials had unofficially contacted the NCAA to ask for permission for Richt to attend the graduation if Troup offensive lineman Chris Burnette would be speaking. But Burnette, who has already signed with Georgia, narrowly missed out on being class valedictorian.
When Richt asked to attend the May 23 graduation anyway, NCAA officials said that request was unlikely to approved.
“Mark still wanted to attend the graduation to support Chris,” UGA compliance director Eric Baumgartner said. “However, after speaking with the NCAA, they were comfortable with [Burnette] being valedictorian, but the NCAA couldn’t get there for [Richt] to attend the ceremony without Chris being the valedictorian.”
Richt didn’t know that NCAA rules prohibited him from attending such ceremonies until after he had promised to try to attend Burnette’s graduation if the lineman earned the school’s No. 1 academic honor.
Violating the rule likely would result in a secondary NCAA violation. Georgia athletic spokesperson Claude Felton said, at least for now, Richt will not be present at Burnette’s speech.
“If, for some reason, circumstances change, then I’m sure we’ll reconsider our position,” Felton said.
NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn said Tuesday that the sport’s governing body has not denied a waiver for Richt to attend Burnette’s graduation because an official request was never submitted.
“Ultimately, the university decided not to file a waiver,” Osburn said. “If a waiver request was filed, it would have been considered like any other waiver request from a member institution.”
Will Georgia file a request? “No, because we have received verbal indication from the NCAA that if Chris is not valedictorian, then there would probably be no extraordinary circumstances that would be grounds for a waiver,” Felton said.
Burnette said Richt delivered the bad news on Monday. “He was disappointed. [But] I’m still thankful that Coach Richt even tried as hard as he did to attend. The NCAA has rules, and sometimes there’s just no way around them.”
The 6-foot-3, 286-pound Burnette has a 5.12 GPA on a 4.0 scale and has made nothing but straight A’s since kindergarten.
Burnette had initially planned to graduate after his first semester at Troup so he could enroll early at Georgia to get a jumpstart on his college football career. However, Burnette changed his mind and decided to stay in high school this spring to compete for valedictorian honors, with the full support of Georgia’s coaches. Richt said he had never recruited a valedictorian before.
The NCAA’s David Pickle helped bring the story into the spotlight of the college football world when he blogged specifically about Burnette on the NCAA’s official website last week before it was revealed that Burnette barely missed being valedictorian. [Note: Click here to go to the NCAA blog]
“Surely we can stipulate that the appropriate outcome here is for Mark Richt to be able to attend the graduation ceremony if he wants to do so,” Pickle wrote. “One of the hallmarks of Myles Brand’s administration as NCAA president has been to provide flexibility to schools when the circumstances of a situation appear to fall outside of the intended scope of a rule. This case seems to fit exactly with that philosophy …”
“Rules are not always perfect, but neither are they always rigid. The key to fairness often is found in the flexibility of application, and on that count, the NCAA often deserves more credit than it receives.”
Coming up next: The ball is in UGA’s court. They have to decide whether or not to file an official waiver request to get an official response from the NCAA. Will the NCAA approve the waiver? Will they deny it? Burnette’s graduation is May 23, leaving plenty of time for everything to play out in the best interests of all parties involved.