by Gregory Habeeb
The Philadelphia Eagles made headlines Jan. 16 by announcing they were hiring former Oregon University Head Coach Chip Kelly to fill the vacancy left by the recently fired Andy Reid.
The news was met with a litany of questions, ranging from whether or not Kelly’s distinct offensive system could translate over in the NFL to what Oregon would do now that the coach who presided over the most successful four year run in school history had left the university.
What has not been talked about enough, however, is how Kelly’s departure is just another example of the hypocrisy inherent in the NCAA’s system.
You see, the way the NCAA works, coaches can bolt from their program to go to the pros or a higher-profile university pretty much whenever they want.
If they get an offer they feel they can’t refuse, there is almost nothing stopping them from moving on to bigger and better things. It does not matter if the coaches are still under contract, as long as the university decides to let them go (which almost always happens) they are free to accept any offer from any team or university.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, if a coach wants to pursue a new opportunity (especially one which might double, or even triple, his pay) he should totally be allowed to do so, right?
There is just one problem: what about the student athletes that the coach leaves behind?
You know, the same athletes that were recruited to the university by the coach that is no longer there, the athletes that are often told when making life-altering college decisions that the leader of the program was going to be in it for the long haul, committed to crafting a winning team that they wanted this particular athlete to be a part of.
The players who came to the university to play for a specific coach are hung out to dry when said coach decides to bolt on a whim.
The frustrating part about all of this is that a coach is simply released from his contract and is free to go. The athletes, meanwhile, have two options. They can either transfer to another university and redshirt the following season, or they can stay and hope that the new coach is good.
In the former scenario, sitting out a year can be detrimental for a variety of reasons– mainly that the athlete does not get any game action for an entire year.
That is not to mention that athletes only get one redshirt season. If they have already used that redshirt, then transferring will result in a lost season that they will never get back. In the latter scenario, the athlete is risking becoming phased out by a new system and losing his role on the team.
Imagine this scenario– you are hired to work for a software firm after receiving interest from the boss of the company. You get good benefits, good pay and are assured that you will have plenty of opportunities to move up in the firm. Everything seems to be going smoothly, until your boss leaves the company a month later to take a higher paying job elsewhere.
His replacement has a completely different view of the way business should be conducted and reorganizes the company structure so that the role that you and many other workers thought you’d be playing changes.
Suddenly you realize that your job no longer plays to your strengths, and you are placed in a dead-end situation with no way to move up.
You want to quit and change jobs, but there’s a company rule that states that in order to quit and switch to another firm you must declare yourself ineligible to work for an entire year.
It does not seem fair or logical, right? Why then, should it be allowed in college sports?
To be blunt, it should not. College coaches should be held accountable for leaving before their contracts are up.
Let me make one thing clear: I am not condemning Kelly’s choice to leave Oregon the same way I did not condemn Nick Saban when he left LSU to coach the Miami Dolphins. Kelly and Saban did not break any rules, they were both just using the current system to their advantage. If faced with a similar situation, I am sure I would make the same choice.
If anything, what is so irking about the way that Kelly and Saban left their schools is how they both made the claim that they would stay with their respective college programs, only to later go back on their word.
I am, however, condemning coaches like Pete Carroll, who conveniently left the University of South California’s football program for the NFL at the same time that the NCAA decided to levy huge sanctions against the team for rule violations.
Carroll was able to escape unscathed, but the same cannot be said of the student athletes (most of whom were innocent) who were forced to endure being banned from bowl games the next two seasons. Coaches like Carroll, who abuse the system and then escape to the NFL to avoid the consequences, are the reason that this issue needs to be fixed.
Fortunately, the NCAA appears to be moving in the right direction on this issue. According to a report by CBS Sports in January, the NCAA is close to passing legislation regarding transfers. If passed, athletes would not have to sit out the following season if they possessed a grade point average of 2.6 or higher.
The rule is still in the works and needs to pass through the NCAA Board of Directors, but if everything goes smoothly it should take effect by August 2014.
This would be, at the very least, a smart step by the NCAA in terms of giving student athletes more freedom.
Chip Kelly is not the first college coach to move to the NFL, nor will he be the last. However, the NCAA needs to either consider loosening its restraints on student athletes transferring schools or tighten its restraints on coaches who leave their programs and athletes high and dry. It is a hypocritical system that needs fixing.
Only time will tell if the NCAA follows through.