Eddie Vanderdoes might some day become a standout football player for UCLA, but last week he learned that there is one opponent he’ll never overcome.
For those of you who don’t know the story, Vanderdoes is a 6-foot-3, 310-pound, five-star defensive tackle from outside of Sacramento, who signed a letter-of-intent to play for ND in February, then changed his mind last week and decided to play for UCLA, in order to be closer to his family. Granted, this is a big blow to the Irish, since Vanderdoes is considered a marauding defensive force, but ND’s tactics are spiteful and sadly consistent with today’s college sports climate created by the NC2A.
Instead of allowing the young man to leave the Notre Dame orbit without penalty, Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly refused to release Vanderdoes from his LOI, even though the young man said in a release that “over the past four months, circumstances have changed for me and my family.” While nebulous, that could mean any number of things, from illness, to economic setback to family upheaval. It doesn’t matter. The kid wants to get closer to home. By not allowing Vanderdoes to break cleanly, Kelly removed a year of eligibility from the defensive tackle’s clock and showed once again that the athletes the NC2A purports to serve so selflessly in its disingenuous promotional messages are at the mercy of the member institutions.
It’s understandable that Kelly would be upset with Vanderdoes’ decision. He is supposed to be a future star, the kind that helps teams do things like prevent their highly regarded linebackers from getting trampled in national championship games. But once the player says he wants out, the honorable thing is to let him out. Kelly’s insistence that he refused to cut Vanderdoes loose because Notre Dame “wanted to protect the integrity of that very important program” smacks of the worst kind of hypocrisy. This is not about the LOI “program,” but about schools’ desire to retain control over teenagers and prevent them from having the rights to do what they want. Kelly and ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick are afraid that if Vanderdoes were allowed to leave the school without a penalty, other players will do the same thing in droves. That would hurt schools’ abilities to retain their athletes. That’s good for the schools and bad for the young men.
This type of punitive behavior is on the rise throughout the big-time collegiate world. Coaches in football and basketball are limiting transfer options for players and are telling recruits who want to back out of their LOIs that they either won’t be allowed to go or must suffer penalties, as Vanderdoes has. The goal is clearly to make sure that no school breaks with the others and shows weakness, or as someone else may put it, compassion for the players.
Kelly is by no means the only bad guy in this new trend. Florida State pulled a similar move with Matthew Thomas, who signed with the Seminoles and then announced his desire to move on, perhaps to USC or Georgia. Former FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said, “You’d get into a situation where if you release him, then people would be doing that every year.”
Oh, you mean like coaches do when they sign contract extensions, promise recruits that they will be at schools for the players’ entire four/five years and then bolt one season later for a better job or contract? That’s a rampant practice that sticks it to athletes many times a year, and the NC2A shows no intention of trying to prevent it. The only variable in the coaches’ exits is how much their exit fees will be. There is no consideration of what it means to the players. None.
Wouldn’t it be great if a team found out its coach was looking for a new home and produced a menu of schools for which he was not allowed to work? That would be like what happened at Oklahoma State, when QB Wes Lunt, one of three Cowboy signal callers to see time last year, told coach Mike “I’m a Man, I’m 40” Gundy he wanted to transfer. The Man listed 40 schools to which he would not allow Lunt to transfer without having to forfeit a year of eligibility. This kind of retributive behavior demonstrates both coaches’ insecurity and the unbelievably punitive system the NC2A has in place.
There can be no denying the injustice of rules that allow coaches, ADs and anyone else who works for a university the ability to move freely from institution to institution while leaving athletes unable to exhibit the same flexibility. Big-time programs are able to recruit more than the NC2A-mandated limit of high-school players and “grayshirt” some by forcing them to remain off campus for the first semester—against their wishes—but those athletes aren’t able to move on freely when they confront such treatment.
The Vanderdoes situation is not a new one, but it is another example of how players are abused by the NC2A and its member institutions, in order to protect the schools and their bottom lines.
Remember that the next time the organization tries to convince you it gives a damn about the players.
• If anybody is surprised that Michael Vick is grousing about his not being named starting QB yet, he ought to stop following football. Vick is being asked to compete for a job, perhaps for the first time in his life, and he doesn’t like it. Maybe Chip Kelly isn’t going to be mesmerized by Vick’s potential, like every other NFL coach for whom Vick has played. That would be a good thing. That’s not to say either Nick Foles or Matt Barkley is better suited for the position, but it would be nice to see Vick have to do the right things to be the starter, rather than relying on the possibility that he could be dynamic and consistent.
• Sunday’s loss to Milwaukee, the Phillies’ third straight, shows just what kind of team this is: inconsistent, offensively challenged and unable to sustain success. It’s too early to blow the thing up, but let’s hope GM Ruben Amaro is testing the trade waters carefully, the better to get maximum value, should the season get too ugly to salvage.
• Miami’s game two win over the Spurs Sunday night shows what can happen when a group of superior athletes turns up the defensive pressure. San Antonio fans should not fear the offensive prowess of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh but the Heat’s ability to strangle the Spurs’ flowing attack. If San Antonio can’t find a counter—and quickly—it doesn’t stand a chance.