In Omaha, everything has been going UCLA's way; likewise, during this past football recruiting cycle under Coach Mora, everything seemed to turn up UCLA's way, culminating with one-time Notre Dame commit, 5-star DT Eddie Vanderdoes of Auburn, having flipped back to the Bruins, even after signing his national letter of intent (NLI) with the Irish. Now, of course, one of our newest football Bruins finds himself on his way to Westwood, but unable to suit up for the Bruins next season, forced to forfeit a year of eligibility because Notre Dame has been steadfast in their refusal to release the 18-year-old from his NLI.
Of course, Notre Dame has justified blocking an 18-year-old from having a full four years of college football by claiming that doing so will help "protect the integrity" (as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly stated) of the NLI process. In other words, Notre Dame sees itself as part of a small number of schools prepared to stand firm against the inevitable flood of release requests from players if the "process" is compromised. In short, Notre Dame and Brian Kelly are relying on the attractive (but flawed) logic of the ol' slippery slope argument.
Let's compare two similar situations: let's compare Eddie Vanderdoes and Gavin Hall. You're probably wondering who the heck Gavin Hall is. Gavin Hall was one of the most sought-after high school golfers in the country. The New Yorker not only won the 2011 Junior Players' Championship and the 2012 Ping Invitational (two major youth amateur golfing events) but he was also on the United States' 2012 Junior Ryder Cup team (which beat the Europeans), meaning he was one of the six best male youth golfers in the country. In short, he's an elite recruit, the kind of golfer any legitimate NCAA program would want. In other words, he's much like Eddie Vanderdoes: multiple scholarship offers from elite programs, a choice to pick the school of his dreams, tipped for great success at the college level.
And guess which school the young Mr. Hall selected? UCLA. In fact, the young golfer not only committed to UCLA, but he enrolled early and started taking classes at UCLA this past January. He was not just committed, but he was officially a UCLA student-athlete, enrolled in classes in Westwood. You can't possibly be more committed at that point. But Hall had a change of heart, and realized that the West Coast just wasn't a good fit for him, and that he didn't "feel[ ] comfortable" in Westwood. So, Gavin Hall asked to be released from UCLA, and guess how golf head coach Derek Freeman (who unlike Brian Kelly, has actually won a national championship) responded? He let Hall go, without conditions and without penalty, stating:
[Hall] said he loved me as a coach and loved the program, but that he didn't feel like the West Coast was a fit for him. We wish him the best of luck. He's a great kid, and I hope he does well.
Gavin Hall was an elite recruit. He had offers from other powerhouse programs like Stanford, Texas, and Oklahoma. Not only did he choose UCLA, but he actually enrolled in classes as a scholarship student-athlete and attended classes on campus for a full academic quarter. Those of you who are Bruins know all-too-well that the student-athletes always got priority enrollment, which made getting into impacted classes all the more difficult. Gavin Hall got an academic quarter's worth of classes, free of cost, at a public university in the middle of a period of extreme financial constraints and limitations. Gavin got that free academic quarter of higher education all thanks to his UCLA athletic scholarship and thanks to the taxpayers of the State of California. And what penalty did UCLA impose on this young man?
None. Zero. Zilch.
Instead, Gavin Hall returned to his native New York, went on some more college visits, and will enroll at Texas this fall, where he'll be eligible to hit the links for the Longhorns. In other words, he'll be eligible to golf at the exact same time as every other freshman student-athlete from the high school Class of 2013.
Unless your name is Eddie Vanderdoes.
Eddie Vanderdoes never made it to South Bend. He never accepted any of the benefits of his Notre Dame football scholarship. He has never enrolled in a single class, never attended a single lecture, and never ate a single meal in the dining commons. Unlike Gavin Hall, who actually was an enrolled student-athlete at UCLA, enjoying the full benefits of his student-athlete status in Westwood, Eddie Vanderdoes didn't show up to South Bend and have a sudden change-of-heart.
Compare how Derek Freeman, a national title winning coach of a non-revenue program with limited resources at a public university in a financially-strapped state, handled the Gavin Hall release to how Brian Kelly, a national title losing coach of arguably the most famous college football program in America with virtually unlimited resources, that churns out an incredible amount of athletic revenue for a private university with a huge endowment has handled the Eddie Vanderdoes release.
Yes, I'm aware that we're comparing men's golf with the king of college sports, football. But the NLI process is the same for every NCAA sport, whether it's football, men's basketball, or something as small as women's field hockey. The rules are the same, regardless of what sport you play.
Of course, the major problem is that the NLI process is an inherently unfair system that binds the player to the university, while leaving the university free to cut the player and leave them out in the cold, without a scholarship, and on the outside-looking-in with other schools having moved on to other recruits. This is the "process" that Brian Kelly feels so passionate about protecting the "integrity" of. In other words, if Eddie decided to take it easy during his last months of high school, not work out, and just pork out on Big Macs or the Colonel's fried chicken, while spending all day smoking weed (in other words, adopting the J'mison Morgan or Josh Smith work-out plan), Brian Kelly could pull Vanderdoes' scholarship offer and give it to someone else, leaving Eddie to scramble to find a place to enroll at in the fall (ask former Iowa State commit Richard Amardi how that goes). But, when the situation is reversed, when Eddie has an ill family member and now wants to remain in California, he has to forfeit a year of eligibility.
Tomorrow, we'll have a more focused discussion on Kelly's hypocritical comments and position on Vanderdoes, but for now, let's mull over how different UCLA and Notre Dame have handled these very similar situations and how inherently unfair the NLI process is, especially for a young man who wants to be closer to his family because of his sick grandmother.
Brian Kelly has a lot to learn about class from Derek Freeman. But then again, Freeman is a national title winning coach. Brian Kelly . . . not so much.