Brian Kelly says LSU explored all options to have Maason Smith for FSU game — including a schedule change

FILE - LSU head coach Brian Kelly disputes a call during the first half an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022. LSU faces Alabama on Nov. 4, 2023. Kelly has brought the Tigers back to relevance, but Alabama's Nick Saban hasn't won seven national championships — the first at LSU in 2003 and the last six at Alabama — by failing to have his team ready for its biggest challenges. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton, File)

LSU exhausted all options in an attempt to restore the eligibility of defensive tackle Maason Smith for the top-10 showdown against Florida State next weekend, including attempting to schedule a Week 0 game, coach Brian Kelly said in an interview with Yahoo Sports.

The school filed multiple appeals to the NCAA while exploring a way to hurriedly reschedule a nonconference game for this weekend. The Tigers play Grambling State in Week 2. Smith would've presumably served his suspension in a Week 0 game and then been eligible against the Seminoles in Week 1.

Logistically, it didn’t work out.

“We looked at all the options out there, certainly, and wanted to make sure that we examined everything that was possible,” Kelly said. “We looked at everything. We looked at a Week 0 game to bring in another opponent prior to Florida State. We looked at every imaginable option, but time ran out.”

Smith, expected to be a key cog on the defensive front for No. 5 LSU and an All-SEC Freshman Team selection in 2021, will miss the Sept. 3 game against No. 8 FSU in Orlando while serving a one-game suspension in connection with an autograph-signing event that took place in 2021.

The news emerged this week from The Advocate in Baton Rouge and stunned a college football universe more than two years into the era of name, image and likeness.

The timing of the autograph signing — the summer of 2021 — is at the center of the case. On July 1, 2021, the NCAA lifted its rules to permit athletes to earn money from their likenesses in events such as autograph signings. But the autograph signing in which Smith was involved took place about one month before NIL was legalized.

An NCAA spokesperson declined comment.

The NCAA denied at least two appeals from the school, Kelly said, and rejected the program’s attempt to use NIL’s legalization as a reason. NCAA officials told the school that there is no “grandfather clause” that can be used in the case, and LSU’s attorneys could not find such an option.

“We have enough people that looked at it from an NCAA and legal perspective, and there’s nothing in the bylaws about a grandfather rule,” Kelly said. “Once it came down, we were looking if we could pick the game [in which to use the suspension]. Is there an option to do that? A lot of those appeals were exhausted, and we were left with the eventual one-game suspension.”

NCAA policy is notoriously stringent on player suspensions. In normal such rulings, once the suspension is ruled final, a player must miss the next game for which he or she is eligible and medically cleared to play. The suspension was presumably final last fall.

Smith played in LSU's season-opening loss to FSU last year in New Orleans, when, in a fluke injury, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee while celebrating with teammates after a tackle. He missed the rest of the season and was ineligible to serve the suspension because he was not medically cleared.

“The appeals didn’t turn out in our favor, and we are going to abide by the ruling,” Kelly said. “We accept the ruling. We’re going to move on and get ready for Florida State.”

The autograph-signing event featured another player, former LSU receiver Kayshon Boutte, who presumably served his suspension last season, according to a report from Baton Rouge radio host Matt Moscona.

The FSU-LSU game is the premier event of the opening week of the college football season. The two playoff hopefuls tangle in the featured primetime game at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC from Camping World Stadium.

Smith’s absence is a blow for LSU against a team such as Florida State, which many expect to challenge for an ACC championship this season. The Tigers will have to rely on defensive tackles Jacobian Guillory, a redshirt junior with two career starts, and Jordan Jefferson, a senior transfer from West Virginia, Kelly said.

“Maason is a guy who impacts the game,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to have other guys step up. We feel like Guillory is a guy ready to step up for us. Jefferson is going to be counted on to play a bigger role for us.”