August 11, 2008

Waiting game unfair to Warren, UT

There was a great significance in the clock's intertwine with 5 p.m. this afternoon, and it had nothing to do with the first Monday Night Football preseason game, the shortening of the average work week or a melodious country tune that encourages a care-free approach.

It's 5 o'clock somewhere, Alan Jackson crooned with Jimmy Buffett, but the sands in the hourglass of Brandon Warren's football career are suspended in perpetuity. It continues to be Groundhog Day for Warren, who opened his college career at Florida State and now would like to finish it at the University of Tennessee.

An Alcoa native considered among the nation's top half-dozen prospects when he signed with the Seminoles in February 2006, Warren's transgression was leaving Tallahassee, Fla., abruptly on the heels of his Freshman All-America campaign to be with his ailing mother, Deirdre, who had a cancerous kidney removed in 2005. While Warren admittedly could have handled his departure better, he told reporters last week he did speak to 'Noles coach Bobby Bowden before he left campus and informed Bowden of his intention to return home. It was widely assumed Warren, an undeniable talent released from his initial Letter of Intent last November, would eventually attempt to reconcile his budding career at Tennessee.

That thought was an afterthought, Warren has said, when he left Florida State to be at the side of his mother, who has since been able to return to work.

FSU, where Brandon Warren signed in 2006, and UT, where Warren enrolled in late May and has worked as a starting tight end through 11 days of fall camp, have played a combined 27 games since Warren capped his freshman season. The extent of Warren's game-like work since his self-imposed exile began consists of a handful of snaps in Saturday's first major scrimmage of the fall -- the first football he's played in a stadium since Florida State's rout of UCLA Dec. 27, 2006, in the Emerald Bowl.

Tennessee's offensive work thus far has focused on continued installation of Dave Clawson's offense, fundamental execution, conditioning and other minutiae requisite of football practices everywhere this time of year.

The UCLA game plan -- absolutely a secondary thought in this Warren saga -- right now is fed to the Vols in gradual bits but begins in earnest next week. Yes, kickoff is three weeks from tonight. But kickoff is just three weeks from tonight. Extending Warren's limbo, by default, imposes a similar uncertainty on his peers at the tight end position and the remainder of his offensive teammates. Which, in turn, coerces a similarly unpleasant nausea on the rest of the team.

"It's been eating at me," Warren said after Saturday's scrimmage. "It's just one of those things. It's a process that I have to go through. I wish I could hurry it up, but it's not in my hands. I am always thinking about it. Hopefully it will all be over soon and I will get some good news."

This isn't Tennessee's first encounter in what necessarily remains a deliberate, thorough process.
Tyler Smith left the University of Iowa basketball program April 23, 2007, citing his father's battle with cancer, and was admitted to UT less than 45 days thereafter. Three weeks into June, the NCAA granted Smith's hardship waiver and he became instantly eligible to compete with the Vols. Smith's father, Billy, passed away before Tennessee tipped off last season. first reported late last week that a governing body central to the appeals process had requested additional paperwork on Warren; this on top of the 100-plus tome Tennessee's NCAA Compliance office so exhaustively compiled when it launched the appeal.

But more information was requested, and more has been given. Warren optimistically, if not confidently, told reporters on Saturday that he believed a decision might come today.

It did not.

Instead, it's Groundhog Day again. And someone, somewhere -- SEC commissioner Mike Slive or the NCAA -- has had enough time to decide whether Warren's career will remain shackled in a shadow or whether a season of darkness was punishment enough.

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