SEC clears Powe to play, three years after signing with Rebels

Jerrell Powe's long, trying wait is over.

After one of the more intensive eligibility fights in recent NCAA history, Powe learned Monday that he'd been ruled fully eligible to practice and play football this season for Mississippi.

Officials at Ole Miss made the announcement upon being notified by SEC officials, nearly three and a half years after Powe first signed with Ole Miss in February 2005.

"It's just a relief," said Powe's attorney, Don Jackson. "This is a young man that has worked as hard as any kid I've ever represented, and I've represented a bunch. The fact that he's worked and gotten through this process is a testament to him, to his family and to all the people around him who've worked to help him get to this point."

Powe, a 21-year-old, 6-foot-3, 340-pound defensive tackle, was one of the top prospects in the country when he signed with the Rebels in 2005. He didn't meet NCAA qualifying standards and attended Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. He re-signed with Ole Miss in 2006, but was again denied eligibility by the NCAA, which said that Powe received too much assistance with his course work.

Last year, Powe attended classes at Ole Miss and was on athletic financial aid but wasn't eligible to practice or play. The NCAA said he needed to meet NCAA and institutional academic requirements before being ruled eligible.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive was the final one to sign off on Powe's eligibility.

"We're sort of in uncharted waters with this case," Jackson said. "The NCAA, in effect, has created a classification that really didn't exist, and this has the potential to have an impact on other student-athletes in the SEC."

Jackson said Powe was essentially admitted to Ole Miss last year under the old partial-qualifier rules -- allowing him to go on financial aid, sit out the season and be able to play this season as long as he met continuing eligibility requirements.

But because partial-qualifier status no longer exists and because the SEC doesn't accept non-qualifiers, Jackson said the responsibility was in effect placed back on the conference as to whether Powe would be eligible. That's where he said Slive entered the picture.

Recent SEC legislation gave Slive more power to rule in non-qualifier cases.

"Basically, the SEC's initial eligibility rules will generally mirror the NCAA's, which allow some non-qualifiers to attend school and try to get their grades up before competing," Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone told the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. "The one caveat is that any non-qualifier still has to be approved by the [SEC] commissioner."

According to a release by Ole Miss, the SEC informed the university of the following: "Under SEC legislation in place at the time of Mr. Powe's initial enrollment at the University of Mississippi during the fall semester 2007, a partial qualifier may be deemed eligible after successfully completing an academic year in residence including fulfillment of NCAA progress toward degree requirements. The NCAA's action of September 7, 2007 effectively made Mr. Powe a partial qualifier; therefore, based upon his academic record at the University of Mississippi he is deemed eligible under SEC Bylaws."

The question now becomes: How ready is Powe to play? Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said this summer that Powe had lost weight and was down to 340 pounds after getting up to as much as 380. Powe hasn't played in a game, though, since the 2005 season at Hargrave.

He re-signed with Ole Miss in 2006 but was again denied eligibility by the NCAA. Soon afterward, Powe sued Ole Miss and the NCAA but later dropped that suit.

He practiced briefly last season during a 14-day window allowed by the NCAA and was quickly elevated to first team, but was later ruled ineligible to play.

"I am deeply grateful to Ole Miss and to the SEC for the opportunity to be admitted here and to prove that I can succeed academically and on the football field," Powe said in a statement released by Ole Miss. "I have always had faith and a plan, and both are beginning to show results.

"Through God's help and help from Ole Miss professors, counselors and coaches, I have successfully completed my first year of school at Ole Miss. However, my journey is just beginning. "

Powe said he will not conduct any interviews until he proves himself "both in the classroom and on the football field."

Chris Low covers college football for ESPN.com.