Scholarly Seminole (cont.)
Arguably the most prestigious honor an American undergraduate can receive, the 106-year old award affords recipients a full scholarship to one of Oxford's postgraduate programs for up to two years. Notable alumni include former president Bill Clinton, former senator and New York Knicks star Bill Bradley and former Supreme Court justice Byron White.
As originally conceived by founder Cecil Rhodes, the award included a direct tie to athletics -- one of the four stated criteria is "energy to use one's talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports." Prominent football-playing Rhodes recipients include White (known as "the Whizzer" as a star running back at Colorado in the 1930s) and USC quarterback Pat Haden.
However, Haden, a 1975 Rhodes recipient and recently the chairman of California's selection committee, was one of the last prominent football players to receive the award. (Former Ohio State receiver Mike Lanese won in 1985. Former Marshall QB Chad Pennington was a finalist in 1999.) Haden says the obstacles facing a current football-playing applicant are far more difficult than when he applied.
"When I did it, we didn't even have offseason conditioning," said Haden. "Today, [football] is a full-time job."
The application process is extensive. Rolle must write a personal-statement about his life aspirations, interview with the nominating committee and provide eight letters of recommendation -- and that's just to gain entry to the competition. Assuming FSU nominates him, Rolle would then enter one of 16 regional competitions against fellow candidates from Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. Students often compete in their hometown's region rather than their school's, and, not coincidentally, the field is usually dominated by Ivy League and other private schools. (Only seven of last year's 32 winners came from so-called "state schools.")
Rolle is determined to make his application stand out -- so much so that he's contacted intermediaries about potential recommendation letters from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Florida governor Charlie Crist.
"I want to study global health as my master's degree," said Rolle. "Studying with some of the best in the world -- it would open up so many doors if I was presented with that opportunity."
Were Rolle to be named a finalist, another potential clash of football versus academics awaits him. Candidates are required to appear before their region's selection committee (which in Rolle's case would take place in Birmingham, Ala.) on Nov. 22 -- the day of Florida State's game at Maryland. A spokesperson for the American Association of Rhodes Scholars said candidates are usually not allowed to interview on an alternate date. The winners are announced that weekend.
"I'm not sure what we'd do about that," said Purcell. "It's a problem we'd like to have. It would mean he's a finalist."
"I would hope we could come to a solution," said Rolle. "I definitely couldn't miss that game. I wouldn't do that to my teammates."
Rolle will not be the only football player in this year's competition. Chris Joseph, a starting offensive lineman for UCLA the past three seasons, graduated this spring with a 3.95 GPA in geography and is applying for the Rhodes and other international fellowships.
Joseph hopes that he or Rolle can win the award to help shed the ubiquitous "dumb jock" stereotype associated with the sport. Rolle's own team was stigmatized by an academic fraud scandal prior to last season's Music City Bowl for which 12 of his teammates will be suspended for this season's first three games.
"It would be great for college football," said Joseph. "It would debunk the myth that football players are all dumb jocks, because that's definitely not the case."
Joseph's situation is slightly different than Rolle's -- he opted not to pursue a professional football career. Rolle has planned all along to enter the NFL draft after his junior season ("We're approaching it like this is his senior year," said Andrews), and numerous draft analysts -- including SI.com's Andrew Perloff -- consider him a potential first-round pick.
During his tenure as a Rhodes Scholar in the '70s, Haden would spend half the year in Oxford and half the year with the Los Angeles Rams, which selected him in the seventh round of the 1976 draft. It's unlikely an NFL team would permit such an arrangement today.
So what would Rolle do if faced between the choice of cashing in on NFL millions (Colts receiver Anthony Gonzalez, the last pick of the 2007 first round, earned $5.4 million in guaranteed money) or a tuition-free Oxford experience? He'd likely have to delay one or the other, and both institutions will surely want to know his choice beforehand.
"It's definitely going to be tough," said Rolle. "I don't know what I want to do, but I know I want to win [the Rhodes]."
Haden hopes Rolle gets that opportunity but does not envy the decision.
"That's a hard one to advise a young man on," he said. "You could argue that you could always go on after your football career and get a graduate degree. On the other hand, you only get a chance to be a Rhodes Scholar once in your life.
"It was a life-altering experience for me," said Haden, who met students from around the world, "and the moniker stays with you the rest of your life. I hope if he is awarded the scholarship he'll seriously consider going [to Oxford]."
Rolle would shatter a whole lot of stereotypes if he does.