The peasants bearing pitchforks and torches stormed Lane Kiffin's farewell "press conference" to Tennessee football last week, condemning him to the seventh level of football hell.
The new Southern Cal coach is somehow the embodiment of NCAA skullduggery -- a man who gave his word to impressionable recruits and impassioned fans, then suddenly bolted at the first breeze. But I'm curious as to why there isn't the same degree of outrage from that same fan base when its program snatches away a recruit at the last second from a program where he made a verbal commitment?
Didn't he also give his word?
Kiffin and mercenaries of his ilk are popular targets, but they aren't the problem. They're merely part of the overall selfishness that has encompassed big-time college athletics.
The coaches are all about themselves. Nobody disputes that. But the players are all about themselves, too, not to mention the fans of their respective programs.
There's more than enough slime to go around. It isn't fair dumping it all on the coach when he finds a better opportunity. This is business, and there's no morality in business. It's cutthroat. It's about destroying the competition before they destroy you.
The NCAA is powerless to do anything, short of creating an earlier football recruit signing date in September or October. That might alleviate some of the pressure on recruits who find themselves in limbo when the school they have made a verbal commitment to has a new coach just a couple of weeks before signing day.
It cannot be forgotten that players sign with the institution. The coach recruiting them simply is the salesman giving the pitch and closing the deal, but the contract--in this case, the letter of intent--is with the school. And players have to sit out a year if they later decide to move among top schools, say from Tennessee to USC.
But giving players unlimited mobility would create an even more chaotic climate. And if you're not careful, all Alex Legion will bust loose.
Legion is why player movement must carry a penalty. The former Birmingham Detroit Country Day basketball standout initially committed to Michigan, changed his commitment to Kentucky, transferred to Illinois and now has transferred to Florida International, where he'll join Isiah Thomas.
So how can coaches leave anytime they choose while players must sit a year if they leave? Coaches have penalty clauses in their contracts. Kiffin had an $800,000 buyout stipulation in his Tennessee deal. That's tip money in this high-stakes illusion of coaching three-card monte.
But had Tennessee placed a $5-million exit clause into the deal, it wouldn't have attracted Kiffin in the first place.