The decommitment of ballyhooed linebacker recruit Alex Anzalone from Notre Dame comes on the heels of head coach Brian Kelly reportedly interviewing with the Philadelphia Eagles. Rivals.com’s Mike Farrell tweeted Anzalone’s change of commitment to Florida was a direct result of Kelly’s uncertainty.
With a little less than a month remaining until National Signing Day, a recruit can hardly be blamed for seeking a more concrete situation, just as a coach cannot be faulted for listening to advancement opportunities. But what of the players?
Kelly’s gauging of NFL interest can be leveraged for a more favorable situation. The athletes rarely have such opportunity. The recruiting period is the rare period players are afforded similar career leverage without NCAA constraints.
Associated Press columnist Tom Coyne referenced fellow 2013 commit Jaylon Smith, who reaffirmed his stance via Twitter. For some, it’s more about the assistants, the existing players, or the university itself than the head coach. And each individual recruit should be free to decide as he sees fit.
Recruits have the option to change his commitment if the coach he originally gave his pledge leaves. But only before his signature is scrawled on the paperwork. Should earlier recruits be given the same option?
Take someone like Prince Shembo, who signed in Kelly’s first class but was a Charlie Weis recruit. Were Kelly to leave, that would make three head coaches he’s dealt with in some capacity at Notre Dame, from the recruiting process through graduation. That’s quite a lot of change for just three years’ time.
Some people perform better with stability, whether it’s on the football field, in the classroom or simply in daily life. Anzalone apparently sought more stability.
When a coach leaves for another job, an interesting idea is opening the transfer window to currently enrolled athletes. Notre Dame is a topical jumping-off point, but consider other programs like Syracuse, Oregon had Chip Kelly departed, Rutgers a season ago. A coaching change might be a dramatic enough situation to waive the mandatory one-year eligibility period for undergraduate transfers.
The NCAA makes exceptions in other instances. It opened transfers to Penn State players from last summer, all the way to Week 1 of the next season. After the initial wave of departures last summer, the tide seems to have subsided. But what if Bill O’Brien had accepted an NFL position?
Penn State’s circumstances are extraordinary in that the window is unconditionally open, so long as the athlete meets academic requirements. But there exists other precedent, like the NCAA allowing juniors and seniors transfer asylum from USC in 2010. The reasoning there: sanctions from violations committed before those players’ arrival sacrificed their opportunity to play in a bowl game. Perhaps a similar process amid coaching change is feasible: offer upperclassmen the opportunity to transfer, penalty-free.
The dangerous line relaxing transfer rules toes, however, is rendering athletes as free agents. A coach leaving a program, particularly this late in the process, can hurt a program. The coach leaving and it driving away both recruits and players already in the program compounds the damage.