College Athletes Have Won the Right to Transfer Schools
Let this be a lesson to college coaches: you have the lost the battle to unfairly restrict student transfers.
Today Maryland coach Randy Edsall became the latest coach to be put through the transfer ringer. After insisting that he would not grant three players a full release from Maryland -- specifically he included restrictions on the players transfer to Vanderbilt because he believed James Franklin tampered with them, an allegation that Franklin denied on our radio show -- Edsall capitulated this morning.
Here was Edsall's statement:
“While at first I thought it was important to limit the institutions to which they could transfer, I have since reconsidered my decision. At the end of the day, I want what’s best for these guys and I wish them well in their futures.
“As a program we are looking forward to putting this distraction behind us and to moving forward.”
These statements are always such complete crap.
It's always great when a coach puts a distraction that he created behind him so he can move forward. (Question: aren't we all moving forward even if we'd like to go backwards? That's how life works, right? No one, so far as I know it, has yet been able to reverse time. Has a coach ever said he'd like to go backwards? Would the world explode if this was in a press release?).
Edsall's capitulation -- following closely on the heels of Tennessee's Derek Dooley surrendering in the case of D'Anthony Arnett's transfer after initially bungling the situation -- is interesting because of what it tells us about the shifting power relationships in major college athletics.
Namely, the players have finally won a public relations battle. Fans and media are aligned in the belief that players should be able to transfer from one school to another without unreasonable restrictions. That is, coaches can restrict a player from going to another school in conference and to teams that are on future schedules, but beyond that any restriction is unreasonable.
If you're a coach you better take note of this shift in public opinion or you may very well find yourself in the cross-hairs of public condemnation. Edsall, already coming off a disastrous 2-10 season, found himself pilloried and turned into a college football pinata -- everywhere he turned people were knocking the crap out of him -- for his failure to release his players.
It's better to let players go without making a fuss than try and bully them from playing somewhere once they leave.
The public relations loss to your program is much worse than any actual player loss.
How have we gotten to this point, where players have finally won the transfer battle over coaches?
Let's break it down.
1. Coaches can leave at any moment and immediately accept a new job so coaches don't have the moral highground when it comes to departures.
The logic here is simple: If coaches have no restriction when it comes to switching jobs, why should players have to sit out a year and only be able to go where coaches allow them to go? After all, if coaches can break their contracts with barely a moment's notice -- witness Todd Graham's text message from a plane en route to Arizona -- how can you refuse to allow a kid to transfer?
I even believe -- and I think many sports fans agree with me -- that you shouldn't even have to sit out a year once you transfer programs.
Coaches don't sit out a year when they move jobs.
Why should players be required to sit out a year as well?
2. Everything in college sports is national now.
In past years your transfer spat with a player might only make local newspapers. Local newspapers might argue for the player's right to transfer, but local fans will almost always side with their coach no matter what he does.
Some local media, a columnist usually, might call out a coach -- although local media aggressively calling out a coach is rare because local media needs access to the coach and his staff otherwise what do they write about? -- but the coach could withstand that local criticism.
Ultimately, the story usually faded and the coach would win these disputes.
But now these local transfer stories go national in a hurry. And national audiences don't side with the local program or the local coach. Freed of local fandom blinders most fans side with the player. Voila, a full release transfer statement emerges after greater examination of the surrounding facts by a coach. Rather than continue with this distraction a coach has decided to "move forward."
The regionalized nature of college sports is an afterthought in a Twitter age. If you're at a major program and you treat a player unfairly, it pops nationally. You can't win a battle with the national media and the national fan base. And as soon as the national media turns its verbal salvoes on you, your bosses take note of the fallout. They might overlook the local newspaper, they aren't overlooking ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, or SI taking you to the woodshed. (And in the South they aren't overlooking OKTC either).
3. You look petty.
Here you are, a multi-millionaire coach. On the other side is a kid who can't even drink a beer legally who would like to go to a new school.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, which side of this debate would you like to take?
It's astounding to me that with the oodles of public relations employees at their beck and call that college coaches even make this error to begin with. That's why I ripped Derek Dooley over the D'Anthony Arnett transfer mess. Dooley's too smart to look that dumb. There are still a lot of dumb coaches out there, but most of them have working grasp of public relations. And if they don't, they certainly pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to someone who does have that working knowledge.
Since the lifeblood of every college coach is recruiting, how in the world can you even risk the negative national press in situations such as these? Doesn't every parent want to believe that a coach will let their kid leave if they decide a school isn't working out for them? Put another way, how many of y'all would have gone to your school if you knew you wouldn't have the complete right to pick whichever school you might want to transfer to if things didn't work out at your first choice? (Stop with the scholarship argument. Kids on academic scholarships aren't restricted in where they can go to school either. But imagine if a kid on academic scholarship wanted to transfer from Stanford to Duke and the school wouldn't let him. Can you imagine the outrage?)
4. Players are willing to take their stories public.
De'Anthony Arnett put out a press release detailing his father's illness.
If he hadn't done this, I don't believe Derek Dooley would have allowed him to transfer to Michigan State.
In a social media age, players are becoming more and more savvy about how to manipulate the media levers in their own favor. In fact, many players -- or their family and advisers -- know how to manipulate the media better than coaches. And whereas in past years players had to seek out media attention, now all they have to do is take to Twitter or Facebook and the media will find the story.
Especially if a player is smart enough to engage the local school that he wants to join on his side.
Then the fan blinders are working his favor as well.
It's always outrageous when a player will make your team better, wants to play for your team, and some dastardly opposing coach won't allow that to happen.
These are the kinds of situations that give local columnists wet dreams. Everyone agrees with you.
5. These stories escalate rapidly and the better the player the more they escalate.
Coaches have been caught flat-footed by how quickly these stories go national.
That's because most coaches grew up in an era where by browbeating the beat writers and ruling their players with an iron fist they could keep most coverage in check. That era doesn't exist any longer.
At long last players have won the right to transfer schools without unreasonable restrictions.
If you're a college coach you'd better realize that fact in a hurry, or you'll be the next coach issuing a statement about "moving forward."