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Football player's case costs thousands

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 8:30 p.m. HST, Jun 12, 2011

A $17,000 scholarship that the University of Hawaii refused to grant football player Daniel Smith three years ago has so far cost the school nearly $200,000.

Smith, a defensive back from Boise, Idaho, said he committed to the Warriors, who offered him a scholarship, told him to refuse other offers and then reneged on their promise, leaving him without a scholarship on national letter of intent day in 2008.

A lawsuit was filed soon after and the parties reached a settlement agreement in 2010, nearly 2 1⁄2 years after the case began, in which UH paid Smith $41,500 "in order to avoid further controversy and the time, expense, risks and costs inherent in litigation," according to documents released by the school under the state's open records law. According to the settlement, "this agreement shall not be construed as an admission of liability."

Under a similar open records request, UH said it has paid $151,764 to outside attorneys to help defend the case. In addition, court documents show UH was assessed $3,486.78 in sanctions by the court.

The case had drawn some national attention because of the possibility it might have set a precedent in the area of athletic scholarship offers had it gone to trial and Smith prevailed. Tim Davis, a law professor at Wake Forest University who specializes in sports issues and was a witness in the case, said, "I think it would have set an important precedent. To my knowledge it would have been the first one (to have gone to trial)."

Mark Valencia, Smith's attorney, said there have been some changes in the way they operate (at UH) as a result of this lawsuit. Athletic Director Jim Donovan, who took over at UH a month after the lawsuit was filed, declined to discuss the case but said staffers were instructed at a departmental meeting shortly after his hiring that only head coaches are authorized to make scholarship offers in advance of national letter of intent day and that such offers must be made in writing.

Smith was initially recruited by UH then-head coach June Jones' staff in his junior year (2006), when he said he committed to assistant Jeff Reinebold. But Reinebold followed Jones to a job at Southern Methodist University in January 2008, a month before signing day, and Smith said he was subsequently told that the new Warriors staff would not offer him a scholarship.

UH claimed a valid offer had not been made and that Smith's grades were not as they were purported to be.

At the time an out-of-state scholarship, including room and board, was valued at about $28,000, but Valencia said his client was on track to receive a Western University Exchange scholarship worth about $17,000. Scholarships are annually renewable by the school, though the vast majority end up being for four years as long as a player remains academically eligible and follows rules.

Smith eventually became a non-scholarship player at Portland State, where he said he had earlier turned down a scholarship offer to commit with UH. He was sidelined with an injury early in his freshman season and transferred to Whittier (Calif.) College in 2009, where he did not play football. Smith said he is scheduled to graduate in 2012.

But if Smith is disappointed about the turn his football career took, he says it opened his eyes to the future. "Football is a great love of mine and I would have loved to have played football for (UH) and that's why I committed so early in the process," Smith said. "But, at the end of the day, I'm happy right now. I'm doing well in school and think this whole situation led me to find my true calling in life." He plans to go to law school.

Valencia said: "And I'm going to be happy to welcome him into the profession in a few years."

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