FSU suffers setback with prized recruit

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- An NCAA committee has told Florida
State it cannot further appeal the eligibility of highly touted
junior college recruit Diego Romero, who played on a professional
team in his native Argentina before moving to the United States
more than two years ago.

School officials are decrying the ruling and say they will
continue lobbying for Romero's clearance.

"The situation involving Diego Romero represents the most
blatant disregard for that priority on the part of the NCAA that I
have witnessed in my 20 years of involvement in intercollegiate
athletics," Florida State athletic director Dave Hart said Friday.

In a Nov. 19 letter to the school, NCAA associate director of
student athlete reinstatement Jennifer Strawley wrote that Romero
"compromised his amateur status" by signing two professional
contracts in Argentina.

The school's contention was that Romero signed those contracts
only to receive about $2,400 in living expenses and that he did not
intend to be a professional athlete.

Florida State said Romero's move to Texas in 2001 and enrollment
at Lon Morris College, coupled with his denial of other benefits --
including a salary and housing allowance from the Argentine club --
further proves Romero's desire to retain amateur eligibility.

"The committee considered the institution's argument that the
student-athlete did everything he could have done to be eligible by
enrolling at a junior college in order to transfer," Strawley
wrote. "However, the issue is not with what the student-athlete
did at the junior college, but rather with what he did before
enrolling at any collegiate institution."

Under former rules, the NCAA would likely have given Romero an
eight-game suspension this season. NCAA legislation was changed and
made stricter in October 2002, increasing the maximum penalty for
amateurism violations to 28 games.

But the latest NCAA ruling, if not overturned, would effectively
mean Romero will never play for the Seminoles.

"He came to this country with a desire to earn a college degree
and to better himself and his family," Dale Dotson, Romero's coach
at Lon Morris, wrote in an appeals letter to the NCAA. "To take
that opportunity away from him is an injustice not only to him, but
to all of those who try to follow the correct path."

Romero chose Florida State over Texas Tech, Indiana and Kentucky
and was part of a Seminoles' recruiting class which some considered
as the best in the country entering this season.

He averaged 14 points and eight rebounds in his two years at Lon
Morris, which reached the National Junior College Athletic
Association tournament for the first time in nearly four decades
his freshman season. The school is located in Jacksonville, Texas.