Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ryan-Uthoff Aftermath: Does College Sports Need a "Free Agency" Period?

College basketball players like Jordan Clarkson and Jarrod Uthoff don't have a whole lot of leverage in their decisions to transfer schools. The last week has seen a firestorm surround Uthoff and his now former coach, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, as they seek an equitable solution to Uthoff's desire to play elsewhere.

Clarkson, a guard for Tulsa, wants to leave following the firing of coach Doug Wojcik, and has been allowed to contact only three of the eight schools that he wanted to pursue. As a 16.5-point-per-game scorer in Conference USA, Clarkson could possibly crack the rotation at schools like Baylor, Texas, Arizona and Texas A&M, all of which he has been blocked from contacting.

He has been allowed to speak with Colorado, Vanderbilt and TCU, and could easily find substantial playing time with those teams, as well. Still, the principles guiding Tulsa athletic director Ross Parmley in his decision to block Clarkson's other destinations are murky at best.

College students the world over have the freedom to decide the course of their own educations, no matter how their tuition is paid. A student-athlete in a revenue-generating sport like basketball or football has serious limitations on those freedoms, perhaps as the tradeoff for the budding celebrity status that players can cultivate on campus.

Athletic scholarships have historically been a one-year covenant between player and school, but new NCAA legislation will allow programs to offer multi-year grants to their recruits. If college basketball and football are becoming mere farm systems for their professional counterparts, as Kentucky's assembly line is teaching us, why not treat these scholarships like professional contracts?

If a coach wants faith demonstrated by his recruits, he should be willing to demonstrate some himself. Offer a player a multi-year scholarship if the program wants to maintain the kind of leverage it enjoys now.

If a player receives a one-year scholarship from a school and the grant is allowed to expire, then the period from the NCAA championship game to about May 16 should be a sort of "free agent" period.

During this period, the coach has two options:

1) Guarantee the player that his scholarship will be renewed and honored, with the player having full legal recourse if the contract is breached; or
2) Allow him the opportunity to transfer to any school that he sees fit to attend.

Any players not renewed during that period will have full freedom to transfer without restriction. Coaches who do not care enough to assure the player his role on the following year's team should not have a say in his potential transfer destinations.

If the player receives a multi-year grant from his school, he's considered "under contract" until the deal expires or the coach agrees to release him. If a player seeks to transfer, then the coach or university can lay whatever restrictions it may choose. To protect the player, the coach may not revoke the scholarship for any reason other than character concerns, such as run-ins with the law.

The multi-year scholarship can be used to give a player the peace of mind that comes with knowing that he cannot be cut from his team, while giving the coach comfort that his players cannot bail to a conference rival on a whim.

Some recruits will seek multi-year scholarships coming out of high school, wanting that "job security," so to speak. Some will be more interested in flexibility and be attracted to programs that offer one-year grants.

Athletes are seeking freedoms somewhat similar to those enjoyed by all their classmates, who can transfer to any school they desire, so long as they can meet admission standards and pay the freight. Other students don't even have to sit out a year. Still, coaches need opportunities to cover themselves and plan for the future, ensuring competitive rosters for the long term good of their programs.

Most coaches don't have "non-compete" clauses hindering their pursuit of new positions, but players have these strings attached to their freedom of movement every day.

For both sides to get what they want, coaches and players will have to conduct more research into each other's motives and determine how much freedom they're willing to part with. Still, it's better than the current system, which is too much like the Beatles' "Taxman" for my blood.

"'s one for you, 19 for me..."


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