Column: Another reason you can’t go home
Nearly a quarter of the major college football programs dotting the landscape will kick off next season with a new boss in charge, including a dozen that just couldn’t wait to ring out the old one.
Those schools have already played, or will play, their bowl games with either an interim coach or the newly appointed coach on hand. Small wonder so many teams looked so confused.
At Texas A&M, to cite just one example, interim coach Tim DeRuyter, who had been defensive coordinator and took over for the fired Mike Sherman, accepted the head coaching job at Fresno State even before he coached the Aggies to a win over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl last Saturday.
So maybe it’s a good thing the A&M players didn’t get too attached to DeRuyter, since they’ll be coached next season by Kevin Sumlin, who, coincidentally, bailed on his kids at Houston just ahead of their bowl.
There’s too much money and too little loyalty to go around in college football these days, unless you happen to be a ”student-athlete.” Then there’s no money, but plenty of loyalty expected on your end of the bargain – something Tennessee freshman DeAnthony Arnett is likely to be reminded of in the next few days.
Arnett’s request for a transfer, as well as Tennessee’s response so far, differs from dozens of similar cases only in the details.
After being one of the top-ranked prep receivers in the country, the Saginaw, Mich., native committed to the Volunteers and last fall caught 24 passes as a freshman.
By all accounts, he was happy with his coaches, staff and teammates and the feelings were mutual. Then he asked to be released from his commitment at Tennessee so he could transfer to Michigan or Michigan State and be closer to his ailing father, who’s undergone two surgeries since Arnett returned home for winter break and might need a third.
Tennessee initially said it would not release Arnett to play at either Big Ten school – meaning he would have to sit out at least a season before playing for either – but offered to do so if Arnett chose to play at one of the Mid-American Conference schools in the state – Central Michigan, Western Michigan or Eastern Michigan.
Though school officials won’t take the matter up again until Tuesday at the earliest, a spokesman for Tennessee said Monday the decision wasn’t likely to change. Despite making free agency possible for coaches, doing the same for players is currently the game’s worst nightmare.
”While our policy is not to release student-athletes to schools we compete or recruit against, there are a number of schools to which we will release DeAnthony that will keep him near his family, allow him to play Division I football, and afford him the opportunity to receive a quality education,” he said.
Tennessee looks heartless, but the school is simply playing by the unwritten rules of the game.
While the major programs can’t do anything to slow the comings and goings of coaches, they can draw the line with players. That’s why you’ll almost never see a kid who played for one of the schools in a Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conference playing the following season for a different one.
And to be fair, while the Vols haven’t scheduled a game against any Big Ten school in 10 years, and none are on next season’s schedule, either, they did compete against the two Michigan schools to recruit Arnett a year ago and again this year, when they got a verbal commitment from another top-ranked Michigan native, Dan O’Brien.
A member of Arnett’s family told the Saginaw News that Arnett wouldn’t return to Tennessee or comment until the situation is resolved, but he’s got precious little leverage.
Arnett is still technically on scholarship and the letter of intent he signed requires him to complete at least one year of schooling at Tennessee, a requirement he may try to meet by taking online classes offered by the school during the spring.
If Arnett is successful, either he or the school he chooses could petition the NCAA for a waiver, which would allow him to play somewhere else next season. Otherwise, the same family member told the newspaper, he may have to pay his own way to attend college, sit out a year, lose a year of eligibility – or some combination of the three.
”The people at Tennessee know he’s not coming back. The coaches know, the players know, the administrators know. No matter what happens, Dee can’t go back right now, not the way the situation is,” the family member said. ”They know that. We’ve been talking back and forth. They understand.”
If the Vols don’t, they certainly should, since there is a precedent close to home. Though Tennessee struggled to a disappointing 5-7 season under coach Derek Dooley, the team caught a small break when offensive lineman Alex Bullard joined the team this season.
Bullard, from suburban Nashville, transferred in from Notre Dame after the death of his father so he could be closer to the rest of his family. Irish coach Brian Kelly released him from his scholarship, and the NCAA granted him a waiver to play immediately.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at http://Twitter.com/JimLitke.