Restricted Freedom

In everyday life the one constant most anyone can count on is change. It happens to everyone, every day, all the time. We switch clothes daily, switch opinions on the fly and, most notably, jobs from time to time. Most anyone is able to change jobs these days unless there is a handshake agreement or a non-compete clause that would prevent that from happening. 

In college athletics, coaches can switch jobs anytime they want to. Pay a little money on a buyout or wait for a contract to expire and they are on their way to their next preferred destination. 

However, when it comes to college players it is not nearly that simple. Scholarships are being treated like ironclad contracts and if a player wants to leave or transfer they aren’t able to do without there being hoops to jump through and hurdles to clear – but is that right?

To be clear at the top here, I am on the side of the college athletes in both of the following cases. Coaches can up and leave a school and don’t have to sit out a year or two because of rules and regulations. They aren’t required to redshirt and they aren’t slapped with a list of schools or conference that they can or cannot transfer to. This is not right. I cannot be any clearer on that. 

If a student athlete wishes to transfer to another school for any reason – to be closer to family, not getting enough playing time, if it’s not a good fit athletically or academically – they should be allowed to be released from their scholarship and go where they are going to be able to best advance themselves academically (which should come first) and/or athletically and they should be able to do so without restriction on where they can or cannot go. It is as simple as that, period. 

If Nick Saban can be allowed to leave LSU and go to the NFL (where he failed, let’s be honest) then because it didn’t work out he can leave there and go to Alabama with no undue restrictions whatsoever then why can’t his players be allowed to do the same?

Saban is now being a bit hypocritical when it comes to one of his former players, Maurice Smith. Saban is currently blocking Smith (who has already graduated from Alabama) from transferring to SEC rival Georgia…who is now being coached by former long-time Alabama assistant Kirby Smart. Now on the surface – and just off this alone – it would look like Saban doesn’t want to weaken his team and help to strengthen another. 

That may very well be the case but when former player Chris Black transferred to Missouri (another SEC school) he was allowed to do so with no undue strife. Alabama is now attempting to hide behind a rule that is in place but is rarely enforced more times than not. SEC policy – as does most individual university and conference policies – states that it is at a school’s discretion not to allow players to transfer from one member institution in conference to another member institution within the conference. 

Problem is they went against policy by allowing Black to leave (he was injured and released from his scholarship) but they are now enforcing the same policy they just went against when it comes to Smith. Again, to be clear, I am not on the side of Alabama or Georgia – who could do more to acquiesce the situation on Smith’s behalf – or even the SEC. He would be considered a graduate transfer, meaning he would be going to school to work on higher learning while playing football. 

Saban runs a virtual football factory in Tuscaloosa and Georgia is rebuilding as a football program. This one player is not going to make the difference between a national championship or a bowl game. It is literally a “do as I say, not as I do” situation. One player was hurt and allowed to leave but the one that isn’t but has met all of his required academic responsibilities, is not allowed to leave? 

The rules are the rules and should be uniformly enforced, not modified on a whim. Saban allowed Smart to go to a rival school in conference without this or any other pomp and circumstance. To hold Smith there and not allow him to go where he wants, considering the circumstances, is pure hypocrisy.

Former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham is in a similar situation as Smith is. Following the sexual assault scandal and cover-up that happened (and continues to unfold) at Baylor, Stidham made the decision to transfer from the school and go somewhere else to continue his college career. Unlike the situation at Alabama, Stidham is being allowed to transfer to another school – but just like the situation at Alabama, the inter-conference rule is being enforced on Stidham (Big XII schools are off limits), as well as another caveat that he cannot go to any school on Baylor’ schedule that has already been scheduled in the future (SMU, Rice, Duke and UT-San Antonio). 

This is not right on any level. The student athlete is being penalized for the lack of institutional control that was exhibited on Baylor’s part by allowing crimes to take place and covering up said crimes. Stidham did nothing wrong here but is now being told he can leave but cannot go to the 16 schools Baylor is preventing him to attend. 

If a coach wanted to leave Baylor and go to, say, Texas or Oklahoma as a result of this scandal I’m virtually certain the university would allow the coach to leave with no undue restrictions being placed on him. If Baylor is afraid that Stidham would transfer to TCU or Texas, sit out a year and come back and perform at a high level – especially against them – then they needed to do a better job of controlling the goings on at their university and they wouldn’t find themselves telling a player where he can or cannot play. Stidham is going to abide by the NCAA transfer rule and sit out a season – but he should absolutely not be told by the university that he’s leaving from where, he can or cannot go to school and play football.

These are only two of many cases that happen like this in college athletics. At the end of the day it is hypocritical to let coaches leave jobs of their own free will and go to other jobs with no consequences or restrictions being placed on them at all, while the student athletes continue to get the short end of the stick. 

If student athletes can’t go to whatever school they want to without having to sit out a season then coaches should be held to the same standard. The same thing should apply as far as certain rules and restrictions go as well. If a student athlete is told he cannot go to a school or transfer to a rival conference then the same thing should apply to coaches who want to move around as well. 

Of course, this isn’t going to happen overnight, if ever in college athletics. However, until something is done to prevent things like this from taking place coaches and universities will continue to circumvent and break rules that are already in place, punishing and holding back student athletes…but best believe that if another opportunity comes along for a coach, that they won’t have to wait or sit out for any period of time. 

It’s not right or correct on any level but it is the way this form of business is conducted in the NCAA.

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