PROVO — It's still a few weeks before BYU and Texas collide on the football field. But right now, the two schools are embroiled in a controversy involving the academic eligibility of a Longhorn player.
A BYU Independent Study policy is preventing Texas offensive tackle Desmond Harrison from being able to practice with the team.
The Cougars and Longhorns meet at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Sept. 7.
BYU's policy, established in 2006, prohibits student-athletes from schools other than BYU from taking Independent Study classes.
Harrison, a 6-foot-7, 305-pound junior college transfer, took a BYU Independent Study online class to become academically eligible. Texas is counting on Harrison to contribute this season, but he remains ineligible while this academic issue is being reviewed.
“Before someone enrolls in BYU Independent Study, they do have to verify that they are not a student-athlete,” BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins told the Deseret News.
While Jenkins couldn’t provide details on the specific situation involving Harrison, citing federal privacy concerns, she did say that BYU Independent Study “has taken an action with which (Harrison) disagrees. He is petitioning that action.”
The appeal process could be resolved “this week or next week,” Jenkins said.
Meanwhile, Harrison's eligibility controversy has become a major source of frustration in Austin, Texas, as the Longhorns prepare for the 2013 season without a likely starter on the offensive line.
“Texas is ready to file a legal challenge to that (BYU Independent Study) policy if Harrison’s appeal is not successful," according to a report on Orangebloods.com. "Sources say Texas will be able to show extensive evidence that student-athletes from schools other than BYU have been able to obtain course credit from BYU’s (online) Independent Study to help them gain eligibility or to remain eligible since the policy went into effect in 2006.”
Prior to 2006, BYU Independent Study courses were available to all college students or prospective college students. The most famous participant in BYU’s online courses was Michael Oher, who went on to play for Ole Miss and became a first-round NFL draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.
In 2004, Oher and those helping him to become eligible for college athletics used BYU Independent Study courses to replace poor high school grades with good ones, according to the book “The Blind Side” by Michael Lewis.
“Thus began the great Mormon grade-grab,” Lewis wrote in the book, which was published in 2007. “Every week or so they replaced a Memphis public school F with a BYU A.”
BYU changed its Independent Study policy regarding student-athletes in 2006.
“It was an internal review by BYU. It wasn’t something that was forced on us,” Jenkins said of the change in policy. “It was a re-evaluation of our Independent Study program. We determined that in order to uphold the integrity of our program, we would exclude college student-athletes, the exception being with the BYU student-athlete. Since that time we have excluded student-athletes that are seeking eligibility.”
According to the BYU Independent Study website, “Students seeking NCAA initial eligibility certification cannot enroll in BYU Independent Study courses for core credit. College athletes from schools other than BYU are not allowed to enroll in BYU Independent Study university-level courses.”
Three years ago, the NCAA adopted a policy pertaining to BYU’s Independent Study courses.
“In 2010, the NCAA passed a proposal, No. 2009-64, which addresses non-traditional courses and initial eligibility for high school athletes seeking eligibility at high education institutions,” according to BYU’s website. “Our high school courses that have been approved by the NCAA for many years no longer meet the new criteria for core credit. Students seeking NCAA eligibility can enroll in any BYU Independent Study high school-level course for graduation purposes.”
For now, Harrison's eligibility is in BYU's hands. And it appears that if Harrison loses his appeal, Texas won't let it go without a legal fight — leading up to the Sept. 7 showdown on the field in Provo.
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