Friday, July 1, 2011

The case for (and against) granting an eligibility waiver to Mike Blakely

image In late May, Running Back Mike Blakely requested and received permission to transfer from the University of Florida to Auburn University. Florida Gators Head Coach Will Muschamp granted his release. Blakely, who signed with Florida in the 2011 recruiting class, was a 4-star recruit who chose the Gators over Auburn and others. But Blakely had a change of heart and decided that Gainesville was a bad fit. NCAA rules require that Blakely sit out one year of eligibility before being allowed to play for Auburn. Auburn however, has requested a waiver of that rule in Blakely’s case, and seeks to have him declared eligible for 2011.

Should the NCAA grant that waiver and let the young man play, or should they deny it? Here’s an argument for both sides.

LET HIM PLAY

Mike Blakely never played a down for Florida. While he graduated early from Manatee High School in Bradenton and enrolled in classes in January, he didn’t participate in spring drills and has not joined any of the voluntary workouts. He never really joined the team. Blakely made a verbal commitment to then-Head Coach Urban Meyer, expecting to play in a spread offense. Meyer announced his decision to step down in December 2010 and Florida immediately hired Texas Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp. Muschamp then hired Charlie Weiss to run his offense. Weiss is considered a pro-style, multiple set guru who gives his teams a “decided schematic advantage,” but the only spreads he knows about are Pimiento Cheese and Miracle Whip. Blakely was clearly a bad fit in that offense and was probably never going to succeed at the level he expected to under Meyer’s scheme.

Blakely clearly made a mistake in sticking to his verbal commitment to Florida. As soon as he realized that Meyer’s offense was a thing of the past at Gainesville, he should have re-opened his recruiting and looked elsewhere. Had he done so, he probably would have landed at Auburn, Oklahoma, Oregon or any of the other programs with spread offenses who were recruiting him.

The NCAA takes an “every case is different and unique” approach to determining eligibility. If they really do have the student-athlete’s best interests in mind, they should recognize that the young made made a bad judgment and should let him play immediately. After all, he’s never competed at the college level and shouldn’t be punished for one bad decision.

Fairness.

MAKE HIM SIT

Mike Blakely is an 18-year old high school graduate. He is not a kid. In the eyes of society and the law, he is a man. He presumably made his own decision, and did so with the advice and guidance of his family and his high school coach as well. He probably prayed about it. He probably gave it a great deal of thought and decided that he’d made the right decision. While it’s unfortunate that things didn’t work out in Gainesville, he made a commitment and there should be consequences for breaking it.

If you follow college recruiting with any degree of interest at all, you know one thing from every story announcing a prospect’s commitment: “Verbal commitments are non-binding.” You haven’t truly made a “commitment” until you sign a National Letter of Intent” and deliver it to the school you are committing to. At that point, you have made your decision and while transfers can and do often happen after a student-athlete has enrolled, the rule requiring the player to sit out  one year season is there for a very good reason.

If Blakely is allowed to play in the 2011 season, recruiting chaos will ensue. You will have unscrupulous coaches using the Blakely case as precedent for late spring and early summer raids on other school’s incoming recruiting classes. The National Letter of Intent, once seen as an impenetrable barrier against poaching, will no longer be a deterrent. Programs can surreptitiously communicate with other teams’ commits and let them know that they’re holding a spot open for them after National Signing Day. “Go ahead and sign the LOI. Then, fake an injury or something. Say you’re homesick. You’re not happy. Whatever. We’ve got a spot for you. You can transfer just in time to enroll in the summer semester and the Blakely Decision might mean you can play right away.”

Chaos.

So, which way does the NCAA go in this? Does it decide that Blakely should get a pass for his “oops,” or does it decide that the consequences of breaking your commitments serve as deterrent for poachers?

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