- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Chris Thompson has been back out on the practice fields each day this week, crutches tucked under his arms and a smile on his face.
The senior running back's season is over after he tore his ACL in the second quarter against Miami last week, but his home remains on the football field, where he's an integral part of Florida State's team whether he's playing or not.
"He's out at practice, he's still in meetings, and he'll still be there helping the young guys," fullback Lonnie Pryor said. "He'll kind of turn into a coach."
But the hope, according to Jimbo Fisher, is that Thompson's Florida State career won't end with him coaching from the sideline, but rather with him carrying the football for a fifth season and making up for lost time.
“We’ll explore with the NCAA if there’s anything that can happen from that,” Fisher said. “We’ll explore every avenue we can.”
Athletes are eligible to participate in up to four seasons of competition over a five-year span, but there are exceptions. The road to getting Thompson another year of eligibility won't be easy, however, as Fisher acknowledged.
The first step will be for Florida State to request a medical hardship waiver for Thompson to the ACC, which has the power to approve or deny that request based on three strict sets of criteria, which are set by the NCAA.
a.) He does not play again for the remainder of the season following the injury.
b.) He had not appeared in any games after the halfway point in the season.
c.) He had not appeared in more than three games or 30 percent of the team's total games, whichever total is higher.
"The conference office has the authority to act on a hardship waiver request from the school," said Brad Hostetter, the ACC's associate commissioner for compliance and governance. "But the trick is, the conference is bound by the three pages of rules. So there's a box within which we work to approve or deny a hardship waiver."
And that's a problem for Thompson.
Any request for a medical redshirt from Florida State would likely be based off Thompson's back injury that occurred early in the first quarter of FSU's loss to Wake Forest in 2011. That was the fifth game of the season for the Seminoles, which would likely mean Thompson doesn't meet the third requirement of having played in no more than 30 percent of his team's games.
The game requirement is calculated based on the total number of regular season games a team plays, but if its conference holds a championship game -- as the ACC does -- that, too, can be added in. The problem for Thompson, however, is that any games played after the conference championship, including bowl appearances, are not used in the calculation.
So, for Thompson's purposes, Florida State had a 13-game schedule in 2011, 30 percent of which would be 3.9 -- or, for accounting purposes, four. Since Thompson participated in a fifth game, the ACC's hands figure to be tied when it comes to allowing a medical hardship waiver.
"The only choice we end up having is whether, if the school asks us to, we can decide whether we want to send it on to the NCAA and have them look at an appeal, because we don't have the authority to approve it when it goes beyond any of these rules," Hostetter said. "The school can ask us to send it on to the NCAA though if there are extraordinary circumstances that exist in a particular case."
This is the loophole Fisher is hopeful Thompson can fit through, but it won't be a simple task.
Any potential appeal by Florida State would likely be based on the fact that Thompson has missed numerous games in multiple seasons without having ever used his initial redshirt option (as opposed to asking for a sixth year of eligibility, which comes with its own strict set of standards).
Thompson missed eight full games in 2011 and will miss five full games of 2012 -- a total of 13 games, or one full season, during his career.
Will that be enough for the NCAA to consider approving the appeal?
Hostetter said over the last five years, "hundreds" of appeals have been sent on to the NCAA for review. Once there, each appeal is "reviewed individually on a fact-sensitive, case-by-case basis," according to an NCAA representative.
Asked for precedent in cases similar to Thompson's, the representative said he was not aware of any.
"It's a pretty high bar for the NCAA to approve a hardship waiver that doesn't meet the legislated requirements," Hostetter said.
In other words, the case for keeping Thompson in Tallahassee for another year may seem clear for fans, but from a legal perspective, it's a long-shot bid, at best.
Of course, there are also no guarantees Thompson will even request the waiver. Fisher said he believes Thompson could follow a recovery path similar to that of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL in December 2011 and was playing in preseason games by August 2012. By that schedule, Thompson could certainly find a home with an NFL team in time to make a roster for the 2013 season.
At this point, however, those decisions are a long ways away. The only certainty is that this season is over for Thompson, and once again, he has a long recovery ahead of him.
"We haven't talked about it," Pryor said. "I don't know what he's going to do. It's something he'll have to make the decision with him and his family."
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