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Going to court over commitment

Recruit sues Hawaii over rescinded scholarship offer

Posted: Friday February 29, 2008 4:25PM; Updated: Friday February 29, 2008 4:28PM
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Daniel Smith took an unofficial visit to the University of Hawaii in April 2007, and is now suing the school and a former Hawaii assistant for pulling a scholarship offer.
Daniel Smith took an unofficial visit to the University of Hawaii in April 2007, and is now suing the school and a former Hawaii assistant for pulling a scholarship offer.
Courtesy of Smith family
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When the Smith family moved to Boise, from North Carolina last fall, Wanda Smith flew a University of Hawaii flag outside their new house. That caused quite a stir among the Boise State fans living nearby -- the Warriors and Broncos are conference rivals -- but Smith didn't care; her son Daniel had orally committed in April to play for the Warriors.

Before he made the commitment, Daniel Smith claims he had to promise he wouldn't entertain offers from other schools. So when Wanda Smith received a phone call in January -- following coach June Jones' departure to Southern Methodist -- from a Hawaii assistant claiming her son hadn't received an official offer, Daniel had no other scholarship options.

So now, Daniel Smith is taking the NCAA's system of verbal commitments to court by suing Hawaii and former Warriors defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold, who is now the receivers coach at SMU.

"I'm not trying to get any money. I'm just trying to get my scholarship that I was promised 10 months ago," Smith said. "They told me to not talk to any other school, to tell everyone I was committed to Hawaii. I did, for 10 months. And one day my scholarship is gone."

Smith's situation isn't unique. Every year, thousands of athletes find themselves scrambling for scholarships after coaching changes or after coaches simply rescind non-binding scholarship offers because they found more talented players. What is unique is that Smith has decided to take his case to court.

"This is the first one that I'm aware of of this type where an athlete has actually proceeded to file a lawsuit," said Wake Forest law professor Timothy Davis, an expert in contract and sports law. "I've heard of similar cases where there were some rumblings made and some complaints, but they were resolved amicably by the athlete and the institution."

Sports law scholars will watch this case closely, because it could set a legal precedent. If a school must pay after revoking a scholarship offer it may force schools to fundamentally chance the process by which they offer scholarships.

"What's interesting about it is that it's a practice that happens more frequently than universities would like to admit," Davis said. "That's why I think it would be an important case and would establish an important precedent."

Smith, who played his junior season at Providence High in Charlotte, N.C., became intrigued by Hawaii while watching the Warriors' 41-24 win over Arizona State in the 2006 Hawaii Bowl. The following March, Wanda Smith sent a highlight tape of her son for Reinebold to evaluate. Wanda Smith said she received an e-mail on March 15, 2007 from Reinebold inviting Smith to come to the campus on an unofficial visit. The text of the e-mail is included in Smith's complaint:

"ALOHA WANDA,

"YES I DID RECEIVE THE VIDEO AND I DO THINK THAT DANIEL IS A DIVISION 1 PROSPECT AS A DEFENSIVE BACK....WE WOULD LOVE TO WELCOME HIM ON AN UNOFFICIAL VISIT THIS SPRING AND IF YOU WOULD GET BACK TO ME WITH DATES THAT YOU WILL BE HERE I CAN MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR HIM TO MEET WITH ACADEMIC PEOPLE HERE AT HAWAII.....

"HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND AND THANKS FOR SENDING THE VIDEO...

"ALOHA

"JEFF"

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