Give college football players freedom of movement

Published 7:30 am Thursday, August 30, 2012

In college football, the coaches have all of the power and the players have little or none.

Need an example?

Even though coaches sign multi-year contracts with their institutions, if another school with deeper pockets wants them, they can get out of their contract with a buyout. Contract, schmontract.

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A coach can have a friend of his act as a cutout, talking to another cutout from the school of his choice and tell the media with a straight face that he hasn’t heard from that school.

That freedom is a one-way street.

If an 18-year-old makes a mistake in choice of a college, he’s locked in once he signs his letter of intent on signing day. Want to transfer? His school can pick and choose his destination to keep him away from a conference rival. If the school chooses not to grant a release, an athlete is stuck in an inescapable limbo.

If you’re recruited to play in a spread and the new coach wants to play in an I-formation running game, you’re stuck. Square peg in a round hole? Too bad.

Word to recruits: Choose carefully. You might be stuck there for a while.

The worst is enshrined in NCAA rules, which mandate that a transfer player has to sit out a year before becoming eligible, unless he transfers to an FCS (NCAA football championship subdivision) school. The only way around that is a hardship granted by the NCAA. Ole Miss quarterback Barry Brunetti earned one after a year at West Virginia, but they’re not exactly handed out like candy on Halloween.

A new coach doesn’t face those issues. He is immediately eligible to take over his office, start recruiting and build a staff. So why the disparity?

But would making it easier for players to transfer cause problems? Not quite.

College baseball, which has a lot fewer scholarships, allows players to transfer pretty easily. Look at the roster of any team and you might see another four-year school and a junior college in addition to high school listed next to a player’s name. A great example was former Porters Chapel star Michael Busby, who spent two years at Mississippi State as a pitcher, transferred to Hinds Community College as a position player and ended up at UAB, where he was MVP of the Conference USA Tournament as the team’s top pitcher. If not for baseball’s loose transfer rules, the great story of his return from elbow surgery wouldn’t have happened.

It’s a shame that college football makes bazillions of dollars from TV deals and merchandising and the players don’t get anything more than a free education. Paying players treads over a line that the NCAA doesn’t want to cross with student athletes. It would be an admission that big-time college football is nothing more than a developmental league for the NFL, cloaked under the aegis of “higher education.”

Short of that, at least give athletes the ability to change their minds. Their coaches have that freedom. Why not them?

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at