College athletics is sashaying toward a tipping point. I say “sashaying” because it suggests a certain obliviousness, a lack of self-awareness, and the folks in college sports have always scored high in those particular categories. High enough to qualify for an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.
The latest athletic figure to move the needle in the direction of Armageddon is none other than Randy Edsall, Maryland football’s answer to George S. Patton. (Minus the winning, I mean.) Since taking over the Terps a year ago, Edsall has been losing players the way most men his age lose hair. Three more parted ways with the program this week, including a quarterback, Danny O’Brien, who was the ACC’s 2010 Rookie of the Year.
There’s nothing surprising about O’Brien’s decision to transfer. It was expected after Edsall installed an offense that wasn’t especially Danny-friendly — and then benched him in favor of C.J. Brown, whose mobility better suited the system’s needs. What is surprising is the report in The Washington Post that Edsall, before he signed off on it, stipulated that O’Brien couldn’t take his arm to Vanderbilt, an SEC school that isn’t on any of Maryland’s future schedules.
The Commodores’ coach, of course, is James Franklin, who at one point was Ralph Friedgen’s designated successor in College Park — and who had a lot to do with O’Brien coming to Maryland. Inasmuch as Danny has only two years of eligibility left, Vandy would make perfect sense for him. He could hit the ground throwing there (and have a level of security, because of his past association with Franklin, he wouldn’t have anywhere else).
But Edsall, heavy-handed as always, won’t allow it — and won’t, either, for the two other recent transfers, offensive tackle Max Garcia and linebacker Mario Rowson. When Comcast SportsNet’s Chick Hernandez pressed him on the issue, the coach said, “Usually what’ll end up happening is there’s gonna be schools on there that you might compete against, or if there’s things that you feel might have taken place, you might put schools on that [prohibited] list. So we have that prerogative to put those schools on the list. The players have the prerogative that if they want to appeal that, that they can appeal that as well.”
If Edsall has a beef against Vanderbilt, feels there might have been improper contact with any of the players, by all means let’s get it out in the open. Don’t hand us this vague suspicion of “things you feel might have taken place.” Explanations don’t get much lamer than that.
You have to admit, though, it’s a totally new spin on the concept of “might makes right.” In this case, if the coach suspects there might have been tampering - or even if he just wants to disguise his true motivations (e.g. spite) — he has the right, under NCAA rules, to block a player’s transfer to a school. And the player — oh, happy day — has the option of asking the NCAA for a second opinion. Is this a great country or what?
Here’s the thing, though: Edsall doesn’t need this. What’s more, he shouldn’t want this. O’Brien is gone, and there’s nothing George S. Edsall can do about it. All he can do - if he’s capable of such behavior — is be magnanimous. But instead, he acts in a way that just perpetuates his image as a control freak … while adding a lovely new dimension: vindictiveness. Now that’ll play well on the recruiting trail.
Abuses of power like this only push athletes, injustice by injustice, closer to revolt. In the NCAA’s peonage system, schools and coaches simply hold too many of the cards. There are already rumblings about paying college football players at least a small stipend every game. Soon enough, we may see the players organize - and file a class-action suit that won’t be as easy to swat away as an individual grievance.
If that day comes, the NCAA will have the Randy Edsalls of the coaching profession to thank, the guys who throw their weight around just because they can. The argument you hear all the time is that less-stringent transfer rules would create anarchy in college sports, result in athletes hopscotching from one program to another. But what that’s really saying is: We don’t want our athletes acting like our coaches. We don’t want our athletes bouncing from one conference to the next like, well, universities do.
What’s wrong with this picture — besides everything?