BOULDER — Mell Holliday will probably have to wait another year before he plays a down at Colorado, but the transfer running back said Friday he remains committed to the program.
The NCAA declared the Buffaloes third-string tailback ineligible for the 2005 season earlier this week, citing a rule
that requires transfers to Division I programs to spend at least one academic year at a university before they can play there.
Although the school will appeal the decision,CU won’t get a ruling for at least two weeks, meaning Holliday will miss the first two games in
a best-case scenario. But even if the appeal fails, Holliday said he hasn’t given up on playing football for the Buffs, whose depth at running back has taken a sudden hit due to the situation.
“I’ll still be here,” Holliday said. “I’m pretty much sitting out two- and-a-half years to play one.”
The ruling came as a surprise to Holliday, who had earned a scholarship after an excellent preseason camp, in which he went from unknown walk-on to the team’s No. 3 tailback in two weeks. Although his path to CU was twisted, he had no idea is eligibility was in question.
Holliday began his career at Division II Wayne State, before transferring to Nebraska to take a shot at the Cornhuskers roster. He participated in three limited tryouts — each consisting of three non-football drills designed to test his speed, agility and jumping ability — but failed to catch coach Bill Callahan’s eye.
Although he never practiced further with the Huskers, NCAA rules required him to get a full release from Callahan, which he did, and to sit out a year before playing at another school, which he did. But instead of heading to CU right away, Holliday remained enrolled at NU in order to stay close to his family.
When Holliday joined the Buffs this summer, several coaches immediately questioned his eligibility. But the CU compliance department insisted he was eligible, citing an exemption given to players who had not yet transferred from a Division I school, did not play for that school, and got a full release from that school’s coach.
Last week, as Barnett offered Holliday the scholarship, he decided to check with the NCAA to be certain Holliday was eligible before he played in a game. As it turned out, the waiver did not apply for athletes participating in Division I football, basketball or ice hockey.
“They said they were going to check my eligibility one last time, even though we checked it several times before and it came out fine,” Holliday said. “Then we checked it this last time, and it’s not fine.”
Although Holliday is optimistic the NCAA will grant him an exemption due to his limited role with the Huskers, Barnett knows the reality of the situation.
“I don’t give that a lot of hope of coming through,” Barnett said. “I haven’t had a lot of success with the NCAA.”
Without Holliday, the Buffs will re-open the search for a running back to step in behind sophomores Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis and senior Lawrence Vickers. The most likely candidates are true freshman Kevin Moyd, who has made strides lately, and junior transfer Maurice Little.
Holliday’s situation isn’t CU’s only issue with the NCAA, however. Two freshmen, Moyd and cornerback Gardner McKay, missed the deadline to get their high-school transcripts to the NCAA Clearinghouse, and couldn’t practice Friday. The problem, Barnett said, is due to their respective high schools dragging their feet.
The NCAA reviewed Moyd’s transcript Friday, meaning he should return Monday. Once the NCAA gets around to reading Gardner’s transcript, he will have to serve a two-day penalty before he can practice.
“I don’t know when we’re going to get Gardner back. In that business, it’s an eight-to-five job. They don’t stay up to read your transcripts,” Barnett said. “The whole Clearinghouse issue, when those types of things happen, it makes you wonder who they’re really hurting; who they’re looking out for.”