ESPN’s Jake Trotter reports today that Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops is either encouraging some of his 2011 squad to transfer, or has told them that he is not renewing their scholarships for 2012.
Some members of the team—in Arizona preparing for tomorrow’s Insight Bowl vs Iowa—have described it as a “weeding out” process and some of the comments from Stoops to Trotter would cause the media equivalent of a media meltdown if a big time SEC program were slashing scholarships.
Stoops hasn’t “named names” and would not address any specific players involved, but some of the current players opened up and talked about the impact the move is having on them personally and the team as a whole.
"It has affected us drastically in my eyes," sophomore linebacker Corey Nelson confessed Wednesday. "Just losing so many good players, so many good players that had so much potential. It made a lot of guys question whether they should stay here or not from here on out. It also just brought a lot of confusion to the players, trying to understand why these players were leaving, what was the main reason as to why they're leaving.
"It has affected us all. I think it's still affecting us today. But we're just trying to put it behind us, since we have the game this week. But it still affects us."
Asked about the situation, here are the comments attributed to Stoops by Trotter, via Trotter’s Twitter feed:
Stoops’ move and the comments he made this week highlight a problem many see as central to reform of the NCAA and its oversight of how schools manage athletics programs. Following President Mark Emmert’s “Presidential Retreat” last summer, Emmert and a hand-picked committee proposed legislation that would allow schools to offer multi-year scholarships rather than the one-year renewable grants-in-aid in place since 1973.
The membership has since rejected the proposal, sending it and another measure allowing schools to award a $2,000 cost of attendance stipend back to the board for reconsideration.
While allowing schools the ability to award multi-year scholarships sounds like a good idea, most such “good ideas” usually run afoul of the Law of Unintended Consequences. In Oklahoma’s situation, Stoops would have to find some way of jettisoning the players he regards as dead weight on the team. The comment in the second tweet would probably be enough—if you’re skipping class or not showing up for practice—you don’t get a free ride at a Division I school, right? But then there would be an appeals process. And there might even be lawsuits, like the ones filed for former Rice player Joseph Agnew.
The NCAA’s approach to the “problem” of one-year scholarships is akin to using a sledgehammer to reattach a piece of crown molding. You might get the job done but you’re just as likely to cause an uglier problem than the one you had before.
The issue isn’t that student-athletes are unprotected without multi-year scholarships. The issue is the arbitrary nature with which some coaches remove players from their roster under the one-year deals. None of Stoops’ decisions in the weeks since the regular season ended appear to be arbitrary. There appear to be violations of team rules regarding practice attendance and class work.
There isn’t a successful coach in college football who would arbitrarily cut good football players from his team. Suggesting that they might do so to make room for an incoming, untried prospect is lunacy. You don’t leave fish to find fish, and you don’t jettison good players for what might be another. Those are the coaches with scruples and successful résumés.
There are some less scrupulous coaches who might arbitrarily make such decisions, and those are the coaches that student-athletes could use some extra protection from when signing with and playing for them. A legislative proposal removing some of the discretion from the coaches—perhaps through a review board at the conference or NCAA level—would solve the majority of the arbitrariness issues while also avoiding what Boise State called the “recruiting disaster” of multi-year scholarships and bidding wars between schools.