Somewhere, there is an NCAA employee troll under a bridge, finding a new way to extract a few more pennies into the NCAA coffer, likely at the expense of one of its “student-athletes.”
As always, NCAA shenanigans are a reminder that when it comes to priorities, student athletes’ rights come last, if at all. Today’s shining example is the collegiate transfer rule.
Here’s how it went down this time.
University of Houston is not a traditional college football powerhouse. But in just two seasons after hiring Tom Herman as head coach, he has made Houston into a legitimately great team. Last year they beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl and this year the Cougars upset two top-5 ranked teams. When second tier teams a la University of Houston become top-20 ranked teams, their coaches inevitably become candidates for jobs at those top football universities. This simple cherry-picking formula keeps the traditionally rich programs at the top.
Well, something not so funny happened to Tom Herman and all of the feel-good, Cinderella spirit he has created in Houston.
Quick pause for some backstory on the backstory. Tom Herman hugs and kisses his players before games, explaining that the culture he has set up is absolutely a reason for his team’s success.
“How do you motivate a human being to do things against his own nature? There’s two things: love and fear. And to me, love wins every time,” Herman said in an interview with the New York Times. It may look and sound funny, but if you get others to believe in it, that’s a powerful weapon.
Anyways, with LSU and Texas both headhunting for Herman in college football’s version of The Bachelor, the coach was asked last Friday how the rumors were affecting his team and their preparation for the last game of the regular season, against Memphis. Here was the exchange, recorded on television with microphones and cameras and that whole posterity thing.
REPORTER: How have you addressed with your team, the reports that there are multiple schools interested in your services and you might not be the head coach at Houston next year?
TOM HERMAN: Honesty. Don’t believe anything that you read.
REPORTER: Can you confirm that those reports are false?
HERMAN: Absolutely, sure.
REPORTER: As a former player, I’ve been in a situation with a coaching change. I know it can be challenging. How will you handle that with your kids today?
HERMAN: There’s nothing to handle except beating Memphis.
REPORTER: Your focuses lie strictly with beating Memphis today?
HERMAN: 100 percent.
Here is the video:
I know you know what happens next, but I have to tell you anyway. Memphis upset Tom Herman and his “focused” Houston Cougars, and the next day the University of Texas hired Tom Herman to be their head football coach. And OHBYTHEWAY, Herman will replace Charlie Strong, a man who went 16-21 in three years at Texas, who will walk away with $31 million.
Seems too bad to be true, right? Well, here’s the rub… of salt in wound. Besides the fact that Tom Herman gets almost a $4 million raise, plus a location upgrade from Houston to Austin, he can accept this new job and take it immediately. As in, before his team plays in their bowl game, later this month.
And OHBYTHEWAYAGAIN, Herman immediately becomes Texas’ highest earning state employee. Meanwhile, his players, ahem, his student-athletes? They cannot leave Houston without having to sit out a year before playing somewhere else. This is the madness of the collegiate transfer rule.
The NCAA has, of course, made exceptions to that rule, which they are happy to trot out under banner and fanfare, so everyone can see how magnanimous they are. For example, when a university gets into really big trouble (so big that the school can’t keep sweeping it under the rug), and the NCAA enforces major systematic penalties, it allows those athletes to transfer away from the sanctions and play immediately. Think Penn State football.
But what about when the coach who brought these student-athletes into the program leaves for greener pastures and pockets? I don’t necessarily think Tom Herman is a scumbag for taking a better job, but don’t forget that whole hugs and kisses and love thing. Need a quick refresher? I think it would come best from Tom Herman’s mouth:
— Joseph Duarte (@Joseph_Duarte) November 17, 2015
So now that Herman is gone, who’s going to be there to give these kids the love they were promised? And maybe more importantly, what did he do with all of those kids’ hearts he had in his hands?
Now, we all know the whole paying college athletes thing is a fervent and polarizing sports debate. But I am still looking to find someone, anyone, who opposes allowing students to transfer schools so they may continue to play their sport uninterrupted.
It’s obvious that the less athletes are paid, the more money the universities and nonprofit regulatory bodies have to share amongst themselves. But who wins when the players sit out? When Tom Herman and his colleagues get to ride the free carousel from school to school, the players who they pledged to be there for, the teenagers they recruited to their system with their coaching staffs, are left in a situation unlike the one they were promised.
And let’s be clear that Tom Herman is not the first to leave his players behind. In 2003, immediately after losing in the championship game, then-Kansas University basketball coach Roy Williams was interviewed (again on TV. Guys you KNOW that red light means it’s on, right?) about the rumors swirling about him and the then-open University of North Carolina job. His answer to the question of whether he would take the job if offered to him:
“I haven’t thought about that for one second. The guy in your ear who told you you have to ask that question, as a journalist that’s fine, but as a human being, that’s not very nice because that’s not very sensitive. And I gotta think that in tough times, people should be more sensitive. I could give a [bleep] about North Carolina right now. I’ve got 13 kids in that locker room that I love.” One week later, Roy Williams was the North Carolina basketball head coach.
Again, if you need video proof or if your skin isn’t crawling enough yet:
And where things go from depressing to tragic is knowing that Tom Herman also won’t be the last to do something like this to student-athletes who have no recourse or options but to sit it out or stick it out.
Making the comparison between the way the NCAA works to the way things run on HBO’s Westworld may be a little too on the nose. But at least the hosts on Westworld, on some timeline, eventually gain sentience as they are repeatedly reused. Until players, ahem student-athletes, are granted at least a fraction of the monetary compensation or basic freedoms to move about the country, it’s easy to assume the NCAA rulemakers see them as replaceable and negligible bots that exist only for their pleasure, on loop until someone whispers in their ear and convinces them to fight for more.