Courts in the American judicial system rely largely on precedent. When no precedent is established, the burden on those who make such decisions is particularly heavy. Their ruling doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it shapes the future.
As a governing body, the NCAA faces its own such landmark decisions, the rulings of which will determine the future of college sports.
How the NCAA rules on five-star linebacker prospect Matthew Thomas, his commitment to the Florida State Seminoles and subsequent cold feet will set precedent for college football recruiting. Like any landmark case, compelling cases are to be made from either side.
Thomas is a young kid who says he was following his mother’s wishes — and when you’re a teenager, mom’s word carries particular importance. Thomas also had yet to enroll in classes or log practice hours with Florida State.
Thomas, who considered Georgia and USC on National Signing Day and still hopes to land with one of the two programs, told The Miami Herald:
“What happened was on Signing Day [was] I wasn’t sure who I wanted to sign with. I had issues with different schools. But when I told my mom I didn’t want to sign with anybody and wait and give it a few days she said I couldn’t do that. She said, ‘FSU is a good school – pick them. It’s close to home.’ I wasn’t agreeing with it. But I felt like I was being disrespectful to her if I didn’t sign. So I made her happy.”
Florida State denied Thomas’ request for release on Tuesday. The athletic department’s perspective is equally understandable. Choice of college may be the first major commitment a youngster makes in his/her life, but it’s still a commitment. Add a scholarship, and the severity of the matter is amplified.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher finds himself in a tenuous position. Thomas has yet to don garnet-and-gold, but allowing a signed recruit out of his commitment paints Fisher into a corner with future prospects. Moreover, he sets a precedent that would put pressure on other coaches to follow suit.
“You’d get into a situation where if you release him, then people would be doing that every year,” FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said to The Tallahassee Democrat.
Working against Thomas is that his is hardly the first family affair to spill over into recruitment. Just in the last two years, there have been highly publicized incidents involving Georgia Bulldogs signee Josh Harvey-Clemons — whose situation involved Florida State, coincidentally — and Arkansas Razorbacks running back Alex Collins.
Both Harvey-Clemons and Collins ran into family disputes that delayed their signings, but ultimately each signed a letter of intent that they honored.
Coaches and athletic departments blocking transfers happens with some regularity. Transfer players are very rarely allowed to join teams their original programs will face — understandably so.
Other notable instances include Pitt’s block of running back Rushel Shell to Arizona and Arizona State, programs with former Panther coaches on staff. Similarly, Randy Edsall intervened between quarterback Danny O’Brien and former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin’s Vanderbilt program.
Though unpopular, the prevailing logic is at least understandable. Amid the tumult of regime change, new coaching staffs don’t want their locker rooms to serve as farm clubs for the previous staffs. Again, understandable.
Wisconsin Badgers basketball coach Bo Ryan earned some derision for his explanation of blocking Jarrod Uthoff’s attempted transfer to Iowa. Agree or disagree with Ryan’s assessment, he at least opened dialogue. To understand the transfer debate, we must understand all sides.
Every case is unique, and the Matthew Thomas situation is especially so. How the NCAA rules on its arbitration will have monumental impact on college football recruiting.