Robert Nkemdiche, the top college football recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com, is a celebrity football player before he steps foot on any campus. The 6’5″ 270 pounder is a ready made rush defensive end who is considered a better high school prospect defensive line prospect than South Carolina wunderkid Jadeveon Clowney. Nkemdiche’s recruitment has been full of twists and turns. The five-star Loganville, Georgia prep player initially gave his verbal commitment to Clemson on June 14th, followed by a public decommitment on November 8th.
Since that time Nkemdiche’s recruitment has been a swirl of rumors.
Yesterday morning the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that Ole Miss is now the leader for the star athlete. Nkemdiche told the paper, “Yes, it would be real hard for me not to go to Ole Miss; that’s a family thing.” (Robert’s brother, Denzel, is a linebacker for the Rebels.) “It would be real hard not to do that, real hard,” he told the paper.
Ole Miss’s sudden surge to the top of Nkemdiche’s list has left tongues wagging in the Magnolia State and even has the Mississippi legislature looking into his recruitment. In particular, a detailed email complaint hs been lodged with the Mississippi State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) that one reason Nkemdiche may attend Ole Miss is because his father, Sunday Nkemdiche, a doctor in the state of Georgia, has been promised a job at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) in Jackson, Mississippi. (The reason the legislature would be involved in any way? The facility is a state hospital funded by taxpayer dollars).
Who would hire Nkemdiche’s father? (It’s worth noting that Nkemdiche does not presently live with his father, instead he lives with one of his high school football coaches, defensive line coach Lenny Gregory, his legal guardian.)
The complaint to the legislature was very specific, citing Dr. Richard L. Summers, Professor and Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine as the individual who planned to hire Nkemdiche. Summers’s son, Stewart, is a walk-on quarterback at Ole Miss. Providing a recruit’s parent with a job is an NCAA violation and Dr. Summers would be classified as a booster, or representative of the athletic department’s interest, since his son plays on the football team.
Outkick the Coverage contacted Dr. Summers and informed him of the allegations received by the Mississippi legislature. Summers acknowledged that in April of 2012, Sunday Nkemdiche applied for a job at the hospital. “He was extremely well qualified, the best qualified, for the position,” Summers said, citing Nkdemiche’s medical license and his previous work in an African-American heart study at Morehouse. “He would have been a perfect researcher,” Summers said, “but he withdrew his application saying that he needed to stay closer to his son while he finished high school.”
According to the email allegation sent to the legislature, the reason Nkemdiche withrew his application in the spring of 2012 was because he’d been promised a job in the summer or fall of 2013, after his son had already enrolled at Ole Miss.
Summers denied that allegation. “I don’t have any jobs presently open so I can’t promise him anything. I did tell him (when he withdrew his application) that if something came open he’d be welcome to apply again.” Summers said that he’s since applied for another grant studying African-American heart failure, but is uncertain whether or not he will receive the grant since grant applications are highly competitive. “If he was available,” Summers said, “he would be a great fit. He’s extremely well-qualified for the job.”
Asked if Sunday Nkemdiche might receive preferential treatment over other applicants because his son is the best football recruit in the country, Summers said, “I told him when we met the first time that I wanted to make it clear that this had nothing to do with your son.” While acknowledging that Summers own son played for the Ole Miss football team, Summers said, “I did not graduate from Ole Miss.”
Summing up the story from his perspective, Summers said, “This has nothing to do with football.”
Sunday Nkemdiche did not return phone messages.
Ole Miss officials declined comment on the allegations, citing the NCAA’s recruiting policy which does not allow comments on specific recruits. Ole Miss did maintain that it had done nothing improper in its recruitment of anyone.
While a recruit’s parent can’t be hired to persuade that recruit to sign with a school under NCAA rules, what happens if a recruit signs with a school and then a recruit’s parent relocates to be closer to both of his sons after they are already attending school in the state? Assuming that Sunday Nkemdiche was qualified for the job at the state facility and his pay was not outlandish, could the NCAA definitively call that hiring an improper inducement? After all, if you’re a parent shouldn’t you have the right to live close to your sons, even if they happen to be scholarship athletes? In other words, can you really induce someone to make a decision after the decision is already made? And can you induce someone with a job that doesn’t presently exist?
This is a fascinating allegation, especially when the nation’s top football recruit is involved.
The Missisippi State legislature’s PEER committee took the allegation seriously enough that the committee held a recent meeting where they discussed whether or not to investigate the allegation that Nkemdiche’s recruitment had been bolstered by an Ole Miss booster attempting to arrange the employment of his father at a public medical facility in the state. Reached for comment, state Senator Gary Jackson, who sits on the PEER committee, emailed the following, “While I appreciate your inquiry, it would be inappropriate for me as a member of the PEER committee to comment on any action that has not yet been released from the committee. This does not mean we have or have not, will or will not take any action on the subject of your inquiry. I wiil refer you to Dr. Max Arinder, executive director of PEER for any other comment.”
Dr. Arinder told OKTC, “We did receive an anonymous email complaint from a ‘concerned citizen,’ who was concerned that state officials were improperly using funds to bring a football recruit to Ole Miss.”
Arinder told OKTC that the committee discussed the issue and emailed the complainant back to suggest that the emailer notify the NCAA because “the basic assertions of the email are more suited for their review.” Arinder said that the committee’s minutes have not yet been ratified, but that when the minutes are ratified they will reflect that the committee determined the issue was “beyond the committee’s purview.” Arinder stated the committee further agreed that, “If there is a subsequent NCAA investigation this committee could authorize an action for review.”
Asked if he had had ever received a college football recruit-related complaint at the state legislature, Arinder sighed, “Not in my thirty years here,” he said.
It’s just over a month until signing day, and if this story is any indication, the Robert Nkemdiche saga is going to have several more twists and turns before anyone obtains his football-playing services.
His recruitment might even lead to an SEC first, an investigation by a state legislative committee.
Welcome to the SEC, where recruiting is truly a blood sport.