The football campaign of 2012 was epic in nature for the University of Notre Dame, and one Irish fans had been waiting patiently for since the days of Tony Rice. And despite the miraculous season falling one game shy of passing the iconic threshold, ample reason existed for program supporters to smile. After two decades of searching ND finally has its coach of the future in Brian Kelly, and though a national championship remains on the do list, the Fighting Irish’s future seemed brighter than ever after signing four 5-star recruits, the best recruiting haul in the Internet recruiting era. After all, recruiting athletes to attend your respective university is the hard part in such a competitive arena, and once the National Letter of Intent is signed, the rest is all downhill, right?
Notre Dame is learning the hard way nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to college football, as rumors have generated national attention that former 5-star recruit and signee, Eddie Vanderdoes, may be having second thoughts about his signed pledge to Notre Dame. While firm details remain sketchy, and every opportunity exists for Vanderdoes to report to South Bend in June as originally planned, the situation begs the question: when should a student-athlete be allowed to transfer? Or, considering the abundance of possible reasons a student-athlete may transfer, better yet, when should a student-athlete be denied a transfer to another university?
While never an ideal situation, often a transfer is the best option for both parties. If a student-athlete makes it clear he no longer wishes to be a part of a program, a certain level of trust is lost that may not be capable of repair. While a university may not want to lose a capable player, allowing a student-athlete’s release is often better than attempting to hold on to someone who has lost the desire to stay. But is it possible for a situation to exist where a university refuses to release a student-athlete even when it’s very clear the student-athlete wants out in a bad way?
Shortly before rumors began to encircle Notre Dame’s depth chart, an interesting storyline began to emerge out of Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee. Former 5-star linebacker and FSU signee, Matthew Thomas, asked to be released from his scholarship in order to transfer to either Georgia or USC. His motivation was not an ill family member or similar circumstance that is often the culprit when a student-athlete asks for a release. Thomas’ reasoning was straightforward: he simply wanted to play somewhere other than Florida State.
As Thomas explained, “What happened on Signing Day [was] I wasn’t sure who I wanted to sign with. I had issues with different schools. But when I told my mom I didn’t want to sign with anybody and wait and give it a few days she said I couldn’t do that. She said, ‘FSU is a good school – pick them. It’s close to home.’ I wasn’t agreeing with it. But I felt like I was being disrespectful to her if I didn’t sign. So I made her happy.”
Florida State’s coaching staff made attempts to dissuade Thomas from his desire to transfer to no avail, which ultimately lead to FSU denying Thomas’ request to transfer. To add more intrigue to the situation, Florida State’s athletic director, Randy Spetman, told members of the media that FSU would be “more than happy to release someone if there is a compelling reason.” By denying the transfer request, FSU left the ball in Thomas’ court: either he honors his scholarship to Florida State or he sits out the 2013-2014 season before moving on to another program.
The key phrase in the Thomas ordeal resides in Spetman’s “ compelling reason” comment. Programs invest significant planning and resources during recruiting, and having a signed recruit leave before even enrolling as a student-athlete simply because he would prefer to be elsewhere is dangerous precedent ground. Losing Thomas to transfer would cost the Seminoles a year of recruiting at Thomas’ position and is unfair to other recruits. There are likely a number of different high school athletes that would have been more than willing to fill Thomas’ spot, but with a commitment already in place, Florida State had no reason to pursue another. And with a commitment made on January 25th, Thomas had over one full year to investigate his options in order to make the right decision for his future.
I am a firm believer that when a student-athlete at Notre Dame asks for a transfer, it should be granted, with a rejection being an exception to the rule. The University of Notre Dame is a unique place and doesn’t suit everyone. However, a transfer request should have a “compelling reason”, and Notre Dame should keep that in mind when dealing with future transfer requests, particularly from those who have yet to even enroll as a student.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.