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Pregnancy Feature An Espn Curveball?

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff




May 30, 2007

CLEMSON – Clemson administrators were in for a rude awakening when they tuned into ESPN's "Outside The Lines" show on May 13.

The folks at Clemson were aware that the investigative program was working on a story regarding pregnancy in college athletics, but they were mostly in the dark about the details.

At best, they figured, the program would make Clemson a small part of a broader story about whether the NCAA should have a policy protecting pregnant athletes. At worst, they feared, the show would report that Clemson athletes had abortions for fear of losing scholarship money.

The worst-case scenario happened. ESPN said seven Clemson women's track and field athletes chose to have abortions to preserve their scholarships. Even more damning, the decisions appeared to stem from a written team policy that stated "pregnancy resulting in the inability to compete and positively contribute to the program's success will result in the modification of your grant-in-aid money."

It must be pointed out – and Clemson officials wasted no time doing so – that the team policy, put into place by track coach Marcia Noad, was removed after administrators discovered it. And, apparently, the removal came months before ESPN started sniffing around.

Also, athletic director Terry Don Phillips stressed that no Clemson athlete lost her scholarship because of pregnancy.

Nevertheless, the fallout from OTL left many questions that went mostly unanswered. Foremost among them: Why wasn't Noad fired on the spot when administrators stumbled upon the policy? The fact that a coach would put such a policy in writing is, in and of itself, astounding. Clemson claims it first became aware of it in August 2006, and that it was promptly removed.

Another question: Who signed off on the policy to begin with? The policy was in the team handbook, and team handbooks generally must be approved by a higher-up before they are distributed. If an administrator did indeed sign off on it, that might explain why Noad is still employed at Clemson.

There's really no defense for such a policy ever being in place, but Clemson may be justified in its assertion that ESPN used questionable reporting tactics while pursuing the story. According to school officials, ESPN misrepresented the focus of its story to gain interview access to athletic department administrators.

Clemson claims that ESPN didn't present the school with all of its information and was deliberately vague when explaining the purpose of its story. During conversations between the network and the school, there allegedly was no mention of the track athletes who had abortions to preserve their scholarships. Neglecting to allow Clemson to respond to those athletes' allegations came off as an underhanded move by the "Worldwide Leader In Sports."

EVERYONE HAPPY ABOUT CLAY

Clemson's football coaches breathed a heaving sigh of relief on May 21, when Antonio Clay returned to campus for the first session of summer school.

Clay, a rising junior linebacker, had spent the spring semester at home after suffering severe depression stemming from his older sister's death last summer. More important than Clay's mere presence was the apparently dramatic emotional improvement he had made over the previous month.

At one point during the spring, Clay was in such a dire emotional state that coaches feared he was done with football for good. He made an appearance at the spring game, and the team was glad to see him. But they were worried about the effects of anti-depressants on his persona. By all accounts, Clay was a shell of his former self when he visited the spring game.

That seemed to have changed by the time he arrived back on campus in May. According to reports, he had spent a month working out with his old high school team in Jeffersonville, Ga. He was being weaned off the anti-depressants, and those close to him said the old Clay was back, with the old sparkle in his eye.

To be sure, the past nine months have been tortuous for Clay. Just a few days before Clemson's 2006 opener against Florida Atlantic, he learned that his 22-year-old sister had died after her car flipped near the family's hometown. Clay played in the opener and attended the funeral two days later. A few hours after burying his sister, he was back in Clemson preparing for a crucial game at Boston College.

In hindsight, Clay never had an opportunity to grieve. He occupied himself with the season and seemed fine, until he went home during an open date in November. Forced to confront the reality that his sister was gone forever, he slipped into a tailspin that had teammates and coaches fearing for his football future, and perhaps even his life.

The low point came during bowl practices, when Clay appeared completely uninterested in whatever team activity was taking place. That's when word leaked out that he was suffering mightily from depression.

Clay's return is a big boost for a linebacker corps that sorely needs his presence. Senior Tramaine Billie still has ground to make up in summer school to become academically eligible. Another senior linebacker, Nick Watkins, appears to have secured his eligibility for 2007.

Even if Billie doesn't make it, the returns of Clay and Watkins will make the situation much more manageable than it could have been.

COACHES LED DENDY DECISION

In late April, Clemson basketball commitment Laron Dendy told reporters that he was rescinding his commitment to the Tigers and re-opening his recruitment.

The news dismayed some Clemson fans who were hoping to see the highly regarded Dendy wearing orange starting in 2008-09. But there was more to the story than Dendy, a top-50 forward, simply backing out of his commitment. In fact, it all appears to have been orchestrated by a Clemson staff that was eager to sever ties with the troubled recruit.

The 6-8 Dendy has given Clemson plenty of negative attention since he originally committed to the Tigers about two years ago. He has bounced among four high schools, including one – Prince Avenue Prep – whose academic legitimacy has been called into question by the NCAA. Dendy initially was supposed to start at Clemson in 2007-08, but he was reclassified as a junior last fall, after more problems with his grades.

Insiders said that the Tigers' coaches, who already were putting together an impressive 2008-09 recruiting class apart from Dendy, decided to back off a few weeks before Dendy told reporters he was backing off. Essentially, they allowed the player to publicly proclaim that the decision was his so he could save face and keep his already questionable reputation from taking yet another hit.