Friday, June 08, 2007

About Those Geese and Ganders

I suppose everyone has to put in their two cents about the Donovan Debacle. Jay Bilas, of course, was right when he called Donovan's behavior unprofessional. His acts belied insecurity and immaturity that we never saw out of him, and it will certainly hurt his perception and career in the future. But I'm not going to moralize on what Donovan should have done. You can't blame someone for saying "I won at the college level. Now I want to win at the highest level." And you can't blame someone for turning down the money and sticking with a more secure place. Either way, I think the whole issue here is a deeper one, which relates back to the Bob Huggins disaster a few months back:

When dealing with contract situations, it's always essential to look at them from both sides. In general, you want a situation where both sides have equal power and leeway. Generally, it's not the case. Take the NFL for example. Teams have a right to cut players at any point, and thus refuse to pay the rest of their contracts. Players, on the other hand, cannot just quit a deal that they feel is unfair.

On the other hand, of course, is the hold-out process. Players can choose to not show up for work, without pay of course, until the team gives them a new contract that pays them more. Teams, on the other hand, are not allowed to "hold out" and refuse to pay a player who they believe is being paid too much. You can argue that this inequity balances out the previous issue. Through different means, each side has a recourse that they can take if they believe they are on the wrong side of an unfair contract.

College sports are much more difficult to judge, because we have issues that go beyond fairness. Players have to be student-athletes, not just athletes. So certain things just simply cannot be allowed, no matter the fairness issue - like schools trading players, or players becoming free agents and switching to better schools at will.

Okay, let's recap here. What's my point? The point is, things are unfair at the collegiate level in regards to the freedom that coaches have the freedom that players have. Coaches are unbounded by any contract, and can go wherever they want whenever they want. The fact that Florida took Donovan back without even dropping his yearly salary (it will stay at the $3.5 Million per year they agreed upon before he initially jumped ship) is an insult to the idea of commitment.

Players can't switch teams without having to sit out a year (with a few exceptions). And I support this rule. Players shouldn't be jumping ship just to be on a better team. But at the same time, when coaches come and go every year or two, it becomes unfair to players who commit to schools for four or more years.

What rules can we change? We can't allow players to jump ship to another school anytime their coach leaves, because that rule could be taken advantage of too easily. You don't want such an obvious loophole for players that want to switch schools without taking a year off. However, the rule can be changed for players who haven't yet joined a school. There isn't much more important to newly recruited, or transfered students than the coach. If the coach jumps ship before they ever show up, they should have a right to revisit that decision. I would support a rule that would allow incoming freshmen and transfers to get out of their commitments if their coach leaves before the school year starts. This rule, obviously, can't be extended to all players. If a coach has to hold his commitment to all players for all four years then he could never leave.

Also, there should be greater punishment and policing of coaches that show a lack of commitment. Schools should set an example and not hire a coach, like Bob Huggins, that has shown a total lack of concern for the players that have committed to him. And coaches like Billy Donovan should be punished for skipping out of verbal agreements. If you agree to a contract, and then leave before it's signed, there should be a monetary punishment. In the real world a contract is not a contract until it's signed, but college coaches need to be held to a higher level.

College coaches have such a great impact on the intellectual growth and maturity of their players. There need to be some rules in place to protect the kids that they affect.