By now, you’re probably aware of Seth Emerson’s story about Alabama coach Nick Saban blocking defensive back Maurice Smith, who is graduating, from transferring to Georgia. This isn’t dissimilar from Georgia coach Kirby Smart preventing backup running back A.J. Turman from transferring to any SEC school, Miami or Georgia Tech, although I’m sure you’ll find fans for the respective schools who will scream in social media, “THIS IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!”
The bottom line: Saban and Smart are both being petty. Because that’s what coaches do. They have all the power and they want all the power. They give soundbites like, “I’m just protecting the (Your School Here) program,” but in truth they’re protecting themselves.
College coaches want to be allowed to recruit young men and make all sorts of promises to them but reserve the right to run those same players off when they don’t meet their level of expectation. They also will allow assistant coaches to pursue kids to sign letters of intent up to signing day, knowing those same coaches are on the verge of taking another job after signing day. Never mind that the player might have signed specifically because of that coach.
And, of course, head coaches leave for other jobs in the middle of contracts all the time. The players? They’re stuck. Because scholarships tend to be a one-way contracts: “You’re locked in — unless I decide I don’t want you, or don’t like you, or I need you scholarship for another kid I like more. You want to stay? Fine. You’re not getting off the bench and we need you to wash towels. Still want to stay?”
I understand why Saban and Smart are taking their positions. But it would be better if everybody adopted the Mark Richt “Life’s too short” policy of just letting kids leave.
Here’s what needs to happen, but probably won’t because it makes too much sense:
• The NCAA needs to have a uniform transfer policy for both undergraduate and graduate student-athletes — if not across all schools, at least across all Division I (FBS) universities or “Power 5” Conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12). This will come as a shock to SEC coaches, who believe the world revolves around them.
• All transfer rules should be relaxed. Really relaxed. Possibly eliminated. Sorry, NCAA’: This is a business. Schools sign coaches to multi-year, eight-digit contracts. Those same coaches and athletic departments romance millionaire donors to help them build state-of-the-art athletic facilities. Academic rules are bent or broken to keep players eligible so teams can win games and generate more revenue. Way down at the bottom are the players, with few rights.
Yes, I know about the free education. It’s a great thing. But the truth is Joey Fleet Feet can get a free education at almost any major program in the U.S. He chose a certain school for a coach or any of a number of reasons. But his agreement comes with no guarantees. Why shouldn’t he have some of the same rights as a coach?
I’ve written this before but will do so again: If you believe an open transfer policy will lead to chaos, what is it we have now? Unbalanced chaos?
Saban and Smart are concerned that allowing a reserve player to leave for another SEC school could open the floodgates. I doubt that. I don’t starting quarterbacks and running backs are suddenly going to switch schools unless their circumstances change. But if that’s the major concern, put in some safeguards like: “Players with X-number of starts or X-number of yards can’t transfer without a university’s permission.”
There are ways to fix this problem. But the current situation is unfair to players and gives coaches too much power.
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