The longer the NCAA waited to render a decision on Keith Smith, the less likely it seemed that the star receiver would see the field again for Purdue.
Smith finally got the news Monday, and it wasn't what he or Purdue fans wanted to hear.
The NCAA denied Smith a sixth year, ending his college career two days before Purdue is to open spring practice. Smith applied for a sixth year in November after two torn ligaments in a Week 2 win against Western Illinois ended his 2010 season.
The NCAA typically makes decisions on sixth-year applicants in early to mid February. Minnesota safety Kim Royston, who missed all of last season with a broken leg, got the good news in late January. The NCAA granted sixth years to Purdue players in each of the past two Februarys: linebacker Jason Werner in 2010 and safety Torri Williams in 2009.
But for some reason, Smith's case wasn't compelling enough for a sixth year. Count me among those disappointed by the decision.
Not only is Smith an outstanding player -- he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2009 after leading the league in both receptions (91) and receiving yards (1,100) -- but he's a classy kid with an infectious personality who deserved a better end to his college career.
Smith showed why type of guy he is in the way he handled the injury setback last season.
I spoke this afternoon with Purdue coach Danny Hope, who hasn't heard why Smith's application was denied (Purdue's compliance department deals with the NCAA, not the coaches). One possible explanation why the decisions differed for Werner, Williams and Smith: both Werner and Williams missed two full seasons because of injury while Smith sat out the 2007 season only partially because of injury.
I'm checking with the NCAA and hope to get a response soon.
"We’re all very disappointed," Hope said. "Disappointed for him and obviously, he's a very valuable team member, so we’re all disappointed. But it’s just reality. Sometimes life can throw you a curveball, you have to adjust your swing."
There's no doubt Smith will make the necessary adjustments.
"I told Keith months ago that either way, I think he’ll make it in the National Football League," Hope said. "Getting a year back would have given him opportunity to improve after the injury and show what he can do. He’s been great. He’s been extremely upbeat throughout the whole process and has had a plan regardless of the scenario."
Smith attended the NFL combine in Indianapolis and went through interviews with teams. He couldn't participate in drills as he continues to rehab from the knee surgery.
Purdue brings back some decent depth at receiver even without Smith. Justin Siller returns from injury, and the Boilers also have Antavian Edison, Gary Bush and O.J. Ross, who impressed before getting hurt.
Hope also is excited about Normando Harris, who moves to receiver from safety, and incoming freshman Raheem Mostert.
"I think we’re going to be OK numbers wise," Hope said. "We're going to have to produce to fill those shoes, but we’ve got some good players coming back."