Time for the NCAA to Change with the Times

With all the strong emotions created from college coaches coming and going from football programs like most of us change shoes, one thing has been lost–the student-athletes these changes affect.  While there are many arguements for and against a college coaches right and opportunity to walk from a program despite the agreed upon contracts, it is not the administrations, athletic departments and alumni that are affected the most, but instead, the young men who made their commitment to the particular school.

Despite only monetary punishments (and in the case of Rich Rodriguez and West Virginia, a possible law suit), there are no real sanctions in place for coaches or universities not holding up their contracts.  The players, on the other hand, are still required to sit out a year if they wish to transfer.  This is due to an NCAA rule that is strictly enforced.

Now, more than ever, college sports, particularly college football, have quickly become a huge income producer for colleges and universities.  The NCAA gets their cut of the revenues, too.  In 2008, the NCAA reports revenues showed over $590 million from television and marketing rights alone. 

This big business has created an environment where many top coaches will go to the highest bidder, and while the lack of loyalty is ridiculed, it is accepted as just a sign of the times.

Don’t tell that to Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.  Mallett originally signed his letter of intent to play for Lloyd Carr and the Michigan Wolverines out of high school.  When Carr was forced out of Ann Arbor, Mallett would find out that his new coach would be West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez, who ran a completely different offense that the traditional pro style offense that Michigan ran when Mallett decided to enroll there.

Mallett transferred to Arkanasas, and despite an appeal to the NCAA, he was forced to sit out the entire 2008 season for not honoring his commitment.  In the end, the NCAA showed no compassion for an 18-year old kid who was caught in a bait and switch by the Michigan athletic department, and he was punished accordingly.

It now appears that Kiffin will not be singing "Rocky Top" anywhere next season (google images)

More recently (just three weeks before college football’s National Signing Day), it was announced that Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin has decided to jump ship for USC after just one year in Knoxville.  Nevermind the 18 recruits who have committed to UT.  Two of those recruits have already signed the letter of intent, which binds them to that commitment.

And nevermind the fact that a huge factor in the commitments of these recruits was because of the coaching staff, that will subsequently not be there any longer.

A similar situation has been brewing in Gainesville, Florida, where head coach Urban Meyer announced that he was resigning, due to health issues.  A day later, after a huge fallout of the 2010 recruiting class for the Gators, which included a brief decommitment from safety Matt Elam, the bell cow of the Florida class, Meyer quickly changed his mind, at least to the media and the recruits. 

He said after going to one practice, he realized that he would instead take a leave of absence, and it has been reported that he has told several prized recruits that he plans to resume the head coaching role in August.

If Meyer does what many expect, he will not be the head coach at Florida next season.  But in the high-stakes game of college recruiting, the Florida Gators could not afford to take a big hit, just weeks before signing day, so Meyer’s resignation was downplayed to an indefinite leave.

Whether health, family or any other issues do not allow Meyer to roam the sidelines in time for the fall, 20-25 young men will be playing for a coach that they did not commit to, and they will be punished, should any of them choose to transfer. 

Unless the NCAA changes or at least, modifies their current rules on transfer rights of student-athletes, coaches and universities will continue to have every right to fire coaches, leave for greener pastures and in some cases, even lie or mislead 17-18 year old kids

Why should the NCAA hold 17-22 year olds to a higher standard than the coaches and administrations that are designed to support them?  In the meantime, the recruits who have committed to schools in transition, like Florida and Tennessee, now have three weeks to make a decision that will have a direct effect on the next 4-5 years of their lives. 

Better get it right, kids….the NCAA is watching.

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