After weeks of behind-the-scenes fighting with his former player -- and taking a public relations beating in the process -- Ernie Kent appears to have finally come to his senses and will allow Valentine Izundu to explore a transfer to San Diego State, according to Jacob Thorpe of The Spokesman-Review.
Izundu, a graduate transfer, had been barred by Kent from transferring to more than 20 schools, including SDSU, which Kent claimed had "tampered" with Izundu by recruiting him before he had been released from his scholarship by WSU. A committee of three WSU staff and/or faculty members upheld the decision after an appeal hearing.
It seems like coaches will never learn.
Fans obviously land on both sides of this issue; some, like myself, feel like placing restrictions on transfers (particularly those who have already graduated) is just the wrong thing to do, while others believe that college athletes are indeed assets to be protected and placing restrictions on where they can go is perfectly reasonable -- especially if it appears that another program has messed with their team's asset prematurely.
Here's the thing, though: It really doesn't matter what side you're on if you care at all about the health of you program. Coaches simply cannot win if they try and restrict players and that ends up coming to light. It's been proven time and time and time again.
In this case, things started to go south for Kent when Izundu decided to appeal the decision by his coach. Izundu started talking to the media, saying he was not (and has not been) recruited by SDSU, that he had simply been in San Diego for spring break and attended an SDSU game by happenstance after a friend gave them some tickets. (And for what it's worth, Thorpe has said "flight purchase records and text messages appeared to validate Izundu's story.")
Then Thorpe starts writing about it. We start writing about it. And Jay Bilas picks up the cause by tweeting at his 1 million followers ...
More NCAA absurdity. How can one "tamper" with an unpaid, amateur student? And, WSU is the sole arbiter? Let him go. https://t.co/WF8yPSkSkg— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) April 23, 2016
... and the story gets picked up by national outlets. Shortly after that, the story gets picked up by the San Diego Union-Tribune, likely due in no small part to the fact that coach Steve Fisher appears to be pretty irritated that his name and the name of his program is being sullied in this process. Then student-athlete advocacy groups start getting involved, sending a letter to new WSU president Kirk Schulz:
“Your unwillingness to provide Mr. Izundu with due process sends a message to many prospective students and athletes that could have detrimental consequences for your institution. 'Students first’ surely means that the rights and needs of a student to get a robust education should take precedent over an institution’s anxieties about potential competitive advantages of athletic rivals.”
And sending a separate letter to National Association of Basketball Coaches Executive Director Jim Haney:
“Jim (Haney), I honestly believe restricting the transfer options of college athletes is a form of abuse — abuse of power. Mr. Izundu is simply trying to better himself and increase his earning potential once he completes competing in competitive basketball. College athletes have so few rights and the least that we can do is afford them the same freedom coaches share.
“I realize Coach Kent has been advocating to further limit the transfer rights of college athletes. I truly believe this is unfortunate given Coach Kent is a man of color.”
I also happen to know that Izundu approached some high-level WSU donors, expressing his thanks for their contribution to his education and laying out his case, in the hopes that one or more of them might be willing to ask the school to reconsider. He was clearly ramping up for a high profile public relations war with WSU.
Not long after, the restriction was lifted.
But the damage is already done.
I know that there are a not insignificant number of fans who applaud Kent's stand, who say that if Kent had reason to believe that SDSU had broken NCAA rules by prematurely recruiting Izundu, he was absolutely right to stand up for his program. I obviously disagree, but if you're one of those people, I'm not even going to try and convince you that you should change your mind. I understand your perspective. I get it.
The thing is, no matter which side you're on, you should be able to see the absolute impracticality of Kent's actions, regardless of whether SDSU did anything untoward. Consider: Kent obviously believes SDSU "tampered" with Izundu, and yet, in the face of mounting criticism, he has relented. Why? Because at some point, the perceived "need" to mark your territory is outweighed by the negative press that inevitably gets back to recruits.
I mean, let's even take this one step further, just to drive home the point. Let's say Izundu totally was being actively recruited by SDSU before his release, and that Kent had strong evidence in support of that fact. Now what? Is Kent willing to take that evidence public? Try and convince everyone that he really is right?
Is he ready to go to the mattresses and publicly call his former player a liar and call a fellow coach a cheat?
To what actual end?
Point of fact: A coach in possession of a contract $7 million contract is never going to look good aggressively going after a "student-athlete" whose only remuneration is room and board to the tune of $30,000 or so. Even if he's "right."
And especially if that coach is already struggling to attract talent to his school.
Truly, the best a coach can hope for is that their restrictions never see the light of day. And truth be told, most of them never do. But with student-athletes having more ways than ever to tell their stories to a larger audience -- and with a public that's more sympathetic than ever -- these stories are getting out more often.
And when they do ... man, do coaches look bad. Really, really bad. And they almost always end up just backing down anyway.
Do yourself a favor, coaches. Just let them go. From the very beginning.
Just let them go.