Mississippi's Masoli Ordered To Sit Out Season

Ole Miss is appealing a decision by the NCAA that bars quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from playing this year. Masoli transferred to Ole Miss after being kicked off the team at Oregon following legal trouble.

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Star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the University of Oregon football team after repeated run-ins with the law.

He ended up at Ole Miss, and appeared to have the starting job. But Masolis status is again in limbo after an NCAA decision saying he cant play this year.

NPRs Tom Goldman has the story.

TOM GOLDMAN: It was a case of mutual need. Jeremiah Masoli was dismissed from the Oregon football team in June. He had eligibility left, and he needed a place to play.

Ole Miss, a member of the powerful Southeastern Conference, was facing the upcoming season with only two quarterbacks. Rebels head coach Houston Nutt told ESPN the addition of Masoli, who led Oregon to the Rose Bowl in January, definitely filled a need.

Mr. HOUSTON NUTT (Coach, Ole Miss) I think he makes us better, and I think he gives us depth. You got to have more than two quarterbacks in this league.

GOLDMAN: Masoli arrived at Ole Miss after he graduated from Oregon in July. He took advantage of an NCAA waiver, in place since 2007, that allows an athlete whos graduated to switch to a new school if the new school has a desired graduate program that the old school doesn't.

Masoli applied to the Parks and Recreation graduate program at Ole Miss, a program not offered at Oregon. He was accepted, and coach Nutt asked Masoli to join the football team.

All looked good, until the NCAA ruled on the waiver this week. Masoli was granted a waiver, but it required him to wait an entire year before playing football. The NCAA declined to talk on tape because the case is being appealed, with a decision expected soon - Ole Miss hopes before Saturday's season-opening game.

But its apparent Masolis dismissal from Oregons football team was the main reason for the decision. In a statement, the NCAA said the waiver exists to provide relief to student-athletes who transfer for academic reasons to pursue graduate studies, not to avoid disciplinary measures at the previous university.

But Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone says the athletic component always drives these kinds of waiver requests.

Mr. PETE BOONE (Athletic Director, Ole Miss): To say that golly, let me go find a graduate program I like; oh, and they play football there, too - you know, is somewhat naive. So I think its a hand-in-glove deal.

GOLDMAN: Since June of last year, there have been 62 graduate- student waiver requests; 35 have been granted. Boone says some were granted to graduate athletes with situations similar to Masolis. Boone believes that was because the athletes werent as famous.

The NCAA says it has the discretion with each request to deny, grant without delay in eligibility, or grant with a delay, as in Masolis case.

This controversy is just the latest for Masoli. Last January, he went from the high of playing in the prestigious Rose Bowl...

(Soundbite of football game)

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Announcer: And Masoli kicks it. Masoli for the score.

GOLDMAN: To the low, three weeks later, of a 911 call, identifying the Oregon quarterback as one of two men involved in a fraternity house theft of items including laptop computers.

(Soundbite of 911 phone call)

Unidentified Woman: Can you spell Jeremiah's last name?

Unidentified Man: M-A-S-O-L-I, like the football player.

GOLDMAN: Masoli admits lying to police and his coach when he said he wasnt at the frat house. But he denies being an active participant. Prosecutors never matched his fingerprints to the stolen items. Still, he pled guilty to second-degree burglary, reportedly as part of a deal to avoid a trial and possible jail time.

A few months later, more trouble: marijuana possession and other charges. And Masolis precipitous fall was complete. He was dismissed by some in the media as a troublemaking thug. After spending the last month with Masoli, Ole Miss coach Nutt told ESPN he has a different take.

Mr. NUTT: He could have been a captain of our football team. I pulled him aside last week, said how in the world did you get in trouble? I want to know. Good kid, very genuine, humble, very unselfish.

GOLDMAN: Masoli says hes very thankful Ole Miss is giving him a chance. The only question: when.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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