LSU football coach Les Miles visited the home of recruit Matt Womack on Oct. 28.
At the time of the visit, it was perfectly within NCAA rules. Two months later, it was not.
Miles’ in-home visit with Womack, a tackle from Mississippi, is at the center of recruiting sanctions the program has suffered — penalties made public earlier this week through public records obtained by The Advocate.
LSU is believed to be the first school to receive such violations, at least publicly, for a peculiar and new NCAA policy. The ruling confounds many who couldn’t grasp how a school could be punished retroactively because a teenager decommitted.
College football’s collective mouth fell agape.
“I think the SEC and NCAA are using LSU as a guinea pig,” said Michael Carvell, a recruiting reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Somebody had to be first. Unfortunately for LSU, it’s them.”
LSU will not appeal the penalties, a source at the school told The Advocate.
Most know the details by now. Womack signed a financial aid agreement with LSU, intending to enroll in January. Then he decided not only to remain in high school for another semester but to decommit from the program and, eventually, sign a National Letter of Intent with Alabama.
The Tigers were retroactively slapped with sanctions for the unlimited contact they had with Womack, most notably Miles’ in-home visit: They cannot sign an early enrollee to financial aid agreements for two years and were stripped of 10 percent of their 201 evaluation days in 2015.
An NCAA spokesman did not return a message seeking comment. An SEC official declined comment. LSU officials also chose not to comment.
Administrators, coaches, recruiting experts and others across college football’s landscape spoke to The Advocate about the sanctions. They used words like baffling, bizarre, ridiculous, blatantly unfair and harsh to describe what unfolded — an unprecedented ruling that likely will change the way coaches handle early signees.
“It’s probably going to motivate a few other staffs to handle things different moving forward,” said Barton Simmons, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “When (recruits) sign the FAA, coaches might choose to treat that prospect like a typical commitment.”
Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts, a 25-year coaching veteran, called the ruling “pretty ridiculous” and said the sanctions are likely to deter coaches from signing prospects to financial aid agreements.
“What have you done to the early signing period?” he said, a question directed at the game’s governing body, the NCAA.
An official early signing period for football is expected to be approved by conference commissioners this spring and will be instituted this fall for a two-year trial period. The 72-hour window in mid-December would allow prospects to sign a binding National Letter of Intent.
The early period would not do away with the financial aid agreement. Early enrollees will still be able to sign FAAs on Aug. 1 of their senior years, granting the school or schools to which they sign unlimited contact until their enrollment.
Pete Boone, the former Ole Miss athletic director, said there should be no early signing date in football at all.
“It’s pretty clear that if you do sign somebody in August and if they’re not going to show up, then you know you’re taking a risk at that now,” he said of the FAA. “Kids nowadays … the problem is there shouldn’t be an early signing date.”
The NCAA instituted the rule — punishing colleges if an early signee does not enroll to their school — in April as a way to stop prospects from signing financial aid agreements with multiple schools.
LSU is on the historic side of both ends of the financial aid agreement. The school was one of the first programs to sign a player to an FAA in the fall of 2013, when cornerback Ed Paris and quarterback Brandon Harris signed.
In fact, Miles paid an in-home visit to Harris in November 2013, a time when coaches are normally banned from visiting recruits. Harris’ signing of the FAA made the visit within the rules — the exact situation that unfolded with Womack before he decommitted, committed to Alabama and signed with the Tide.
A member of Womack’s family said Alabama has nothing to do with the issue. The Womack family member spoke to The Advocate on condition of anonymity.
The Womacks did not know LSU would be hit with such penalties if Womack signed elsewhere or didn’t enroll early, the family member said.
Kevin Toliver II, a highly touted cornerback from Florida, signed a financial aid agreement in August with LSU. Kevin Toliver, the prospect’s father, said the family was not made aware of possible sanctions if his son did not sign with LSU.
“We didn’t know that,” he said. “That’s why I was kind of baffled (Thursday). These kids decommit and commit all of the time. How can you penalize the school for it?”
The family member said Womack, a three star prospect from Senatobia, Mississippi, decided he would not enroll early as originally planned at about the time Miles visited him. That — not the fact that Womack eventually decommitted — began the break in the financial aid agreement.
FAAs are only meant for those planning to enroll early. His decommitment and commitment to Alabama came more than a month later.
“LSU knew there was a very good chance Matt wouldn’t enroll early,” the family member said.
LSU’s staff treated Womack like a regular prospect in the first few weeks after he signed the FAA. Coaches played it safe, not risking illegal contact. After all, what if the lineman decided against enrolling early or decommitted?
“For the longest, they were only talking to him through Twitter, which was something they could do legally without the FAA,” the source said. “Somewhere in the process, I guess they felt like they needed to turn up the heat, and that’s when they started texting and calling and stuff like that.”
Miles’ visit came a few days later as the Tigers worked to convince Womack to enroll early, as he originally had planned. He declined, and LSU’s compliance called the Womacks shortly after the visit, telling them that “all contact was cut off” between the staff and Womack.
Womack, of course, not only decided against enrolling early, but the player who was once so vocally “100 percent” committed to LSU instead flipped to Alabama.
The school reported the violations to the NCAA on Feb. 3, a day before National Signing Day. The SEC handed down the sanctions for an NCAA policy that’s now being picked apart.
“The NCAA is such an easy punching bag right now. I feel like they’re a low-hanging fruit,” said T-Bob Hebert, a New Orleans radio personality and former highly recruited prospect who played on the offensive line at LSU. “It doesn’t make any sense for the punishment for a school to be hinging on a decision of a high school senior.”
Said J.T. Curtis, head football coach at John Curtis: “This is another flaw in the system.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.