Tate | Not all programs grade recruits on a curve

Tate | Not all programs grade recruits on a curve

To present a reputation as a renowned research institution is not necessarily advantageous in college basketball recruiting.

Who said that?

Let's begin with the fact that the University of Illinois has tighter enrollment policies than most universities.

Several more athletes, acceptable at other Power 5 schools, have recently been turned away for academic reasons.

And worse yet, far worse in recruiting terms, is the perception that has grown among a constituency of high school athletes — the word gets around — that the UI wants to be an Ivy Leaguer in the classroom ... which doesn't exactly fit with Alabama on Saturday and Kentucky in March.

Nothing drives away a one-and-done NBA dreamer like the perception that the classroom will get in his way ... and nothing entices him like the pitch that, as John Calipari says, "I want to make you a millionaire, and it won't take four years."

Talking transcripts

At this particular time, the UI is in the transfer business. Which means, transferring transcripts.

This isn't automatic at Illinois. We can hark back to Duke's Phil Henderson, whose desire to transfer in 1989 was denied because the UI rejected multiple credit hours that "didn't match up." A quarter century later, former football recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh, demonstrating in front of his computer, pointed to the UI's denial of dozens of junior college transfers and others that would have been accepted at Oklahoma State.

Brad Underwood and Lovie Smith have long since come to grips with these realities ... and as of today are dealing with current problems related to an overflowing transfer market.

Their hands are often tied. A basketball transfer (not TJ Holyfield, by the way) wanted to enroll but was rejected at the graduate level. A quality receiver (not Miami's Jeff Thomas), having graduated, ran into a similar problem. These UI rejections will find nice landing spots elsewhere (one already did).

Names are withheld because, face it, this subject is a tightrope. The coaches can't talk about schoolwork, the athletes won't discuss their grades (unless they're good), and this subject can be quicksand for the media. Without transcripts, we can never been entirely certain of our information.

Quarterback carousel spins

Most intriguing is the current story of quarterback Matt Fink. His father, who works closely with him, told the Los Angeles Times that Matt would transfer from USC to Illinois with immediate eligibility based on his graduation. This was followed by Matt's denial that he had made a decision.

OK, what happened? Well, it turns out that the hidden academic side is the whole story. It appears that the third-year student had not actually graduated, but rather would need a full summer school to do so.

This put Illinois in the precarious position of having to wait until August because, if Fink didn't graduate, he wouldn't be eligible here. So from all appearances — call it speculation on my part — Smith "slow-played" Fink while keeping abreast of the intentions of Penn State's Tommy Stevens. If Stevens had committed to the UI, Smith's QB situation would have been settled. But it was revealed Friday that Stevens, with no academic problems, chose Mississippi State, where his former offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead, had taken up residence.

All the while, those close to the UI have kept watch on the intentions of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, who was scheduled to graduate a couple of weeks ago. Tate played for UI offensive coordinator Rod Smith in his breakout season of 2017. Noticeably unhappy after a disappointing 2018, he nevertheless competed in spring ball for Arizona and is now expected to remain there.

Two sides to every story

Imagine how accurate information in these cases would be devoured if coaches could talk. The academic side is frequently a bigger part of recruiting and transfers than is ever revealed.

So-and-so decommitted (well, maybe he wasn't accepted). So-and-so turned pro (maybe it was the only real option). So-and-so is suspended (maybe he's been skipping classes).

In multiple cases, we are misled. And maybe I'm not spot-on today. But Illinoisans should realize that all is not equal on the collegiate enrollment front. Some universities elect to run tighter ships than others, and the UI takes pride in requiring students to meet its standards, not the less restrictive NCAA standards.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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