By Ken Reed
The coaches can leave whenever they want to. The players are stuck.
Football coach Tom Herman bolted the University of Houston for the University of Texas only 12 hours after reportedly telling his Houston players that he wasn’t going anywhere.
He’s not the first coach to lie to his players about his coaching plans. Nick Saban and Rich Rodriguez have done it, as have a bunch of others. Northwestern’s Gary Barnett once told his team he wasn’t leaving. He said he was focused on “Taking the Purple Back to Pasadena” for the Rose Bowl. A day later he was at a press conference in Boulder accepting the head job at the University of Colorado.
My issue isn’t really big-time football and basketball coaches leaving their schools for what they perceive as greener pastures (although many of them could do it in a more honest and ethical manner). My issue is the NCAA’s plantation mentality and policies, which makes it extremely hard for athletes to move from one college to another.
Studies show that anywhere from 25%-33% of general students (non-athletes) enrolling in a given college or university will transfer to another school during a six-year period. Student-athletes don’t have that luxury without jumping through a lot of hoops and dealing with penalties. NCAA Division I athletes (football, basketball and several other sports) must sit out a year if they transfer to another Division I institution. Furthermore, they must request a formal release from their current school before they can even transfer. On top of that, their current coach can block them from attending another school in the same conference, or any other schools that the coach doesn’t want to see a particular athlete playing at. For example, if a kid plays for Michigan and wants to transfer, his coach can block him from transferring to not only archrival Ohio State, but the entire Big Ten and possibly other schools as well.
It’s not just head coaches that act unethically when it comes to dealing with players, it’s assistant coaches as well. It’s a common practice for assistant coaches to wait until after national letter of intent (NLI) signing day to announce their moves to other schools. So, in effect, an athlete who signs with a university because he loves the assistant coach who recruited him is stuck with a new position coach, who he’s usually never met, the day after signing.
The solution to this injustice isn’t rocket science: Let players transfer with no penalty if their position coach, coordinator or head coach leaves.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.