Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said no. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said no, then changed his mind. Are there potential recruiting repercussions for schools who place severe restrictions on players who want out?
We may find out next year.
Cowboys quarterback Wes Lunt transferred to Illinois, but only after he was originally restricted from transferring to 37 schools by Gundy. On June 18, Lunt went on Illinois radio station Channel 1450 and said that Gundy had lifted most of the transfer restrictions, according to an ESPN report. Lunt will sit out 2013 since he transferred to an FBS school.
Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes committed to Notre Dame in February but had not enrolled at the school. On June 4, the 5-star defensive tackle announced he would play at UCLA.
The Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton tweeted that Notre Dame would not release him from his national letter of intent, which meant Vanderdoes would not only sit out this year at UCLA but would lose a year of eligibility. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman reported that Vanderdoes will appeal by trying to make the case that he transferred due to a family medical crisis.
Florida State did not give 5-star linebacker Matthew Thomas many options. Thomas wanted to go to Georgia or USC, but his mother would only sign his LOI if he selected Florida State, according to an ESPN report. Thomas recently issued a statement on his decision to stay at Florida State.
Three well-publicized cases of players having second thoughts have resulted in three different outcomes. Will those decisions hurt future recruiting classes?
Gundy took a hard line but softened it. Oklahoma State should not see any negative impact on its future recruiting classes.
For Notre Dame and Florida State, however, the results may have a different outcome.
Neither Vanderdoes nor Thomas had set foot in their classrooms before announcing their intent to play at another school. Vanderdoes was willing to give up one year of eligibility in order to not attend Notre Dame. Thomas was reportedly also willing to do the same, according to his father.
That is a big statement from both of them, more so for Vanderdoes.
Notre Dame has seen a rash of negative publicity. The Manti Te'o hoax, the 42-14 beatdown from Alabama in the BCS National Championship, the unexpected decision of starting running back Cierre Wood to enter the 2013 NFL draft, the transfers of receivers Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson, and the announcement that starting quarterback Everett Golson was no longer enrolled at the school have kept Notre Dame in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Both schools' tough stances have sent a clear message—if you sign with us and decide to leave, you will suffer heavy consequences. For a 17-year-old unsure of his decision on signing day, that message may dissuade him from considering those two schools down the road.
Not many fans will argue against the schools' decisions to do what is in their best interests. The coaches have to hold players accountable for their decisions or college football would look like the NFL's free agency. But there is a difference between a high school senior and a grown man being held accountable.
Many teenagers have the attention span of a kitten. Is keeping a kid who initially implied he signed his LOI under duress but is not leaving a Florida State victory?
In his statement, Thomas said that he was "looking forward to winning games at Florida State." Most kids want to win games wherever they are play, so that is stating the obvious. Thomas also noted "after gathering the information, I have decided to honor my commitment to Florida State." That is not a ringing endorsement. That reads more like "after seeing my options and their consequences, I'm sticking it out due to a signature."
If Thomas decides to stay at Florida State at the end of the academic year, then the fracas will be forgotten. That would help recruiting. Not wanting to go to a school but ending up staying is a great recruiting tool. Football in Florida is fun.
If Thomas decides to transfer, though, that could negatively impact the Seminoles' recruiting efforts.
Thomas will have been in Tallahassee for a full year because of his mother's strong influence. Essentially being forced to honor a commitment by coaches who can leave without a one-year show cause does not sit well with bleeding hearts. The kid loses one year of eligibility, but a coach who decides to leave for another school does not—his contract's financial penalty (buyout) can be picked up by his new employer.
If Florida State is smart, it plays Thomas right away. Redshirting him will cause heads to explode. Sitting him on the bench seems cruel, especially if he ends up transferring next year to USC or Georgia. Instead of having five years to play four, he will have three years to play three.
Florida State and Notre Dame have elite football programs and recruit very well. The Irish have the fifth-ranked class in 247Sports' composite team rankings. Florida State is ranked 10th.
February 5 is signing day for the class of 2014. There will be commits who flip from one school to another.
If Notre Dame or Florida State sees a higher-than-usual number of decommitments, then the coaches' stance on releasing prospects from their scholarships will have caused collateral damage.
The best outcome for the two schools and players is simple: Notre Dame releases Vanderdoes from his LOI, and Thomas enjoys calling Tallahassee his home for the next four years.
And they both thrive.