College football’s latest free agent is a doozy, although the question remains just how free he might be. No, not you, Bobby Petrino.
Sophomore Notre Dame defensive end Aaron Lynch is leaving South Bend after one season and will likely take his talents (and they are plentiful) to his home state of Florida.
The immediate reaction of a move like this is greeted with two different forms of feedback. First, of course, is that of his soon-to-be former team. Lynch’s departure cannot be overstated, and while the Irish still have some talent up front, you don’t replace players of this caliber. It stings, and while it’s not completely unexpected given his recruitment and the questions that began to surface this offseason, that doesn’t temper the loss.
Notre Dame’s loss, however, is soon to be someone’s substantial gain. This is where things get complicated.
Lynch is poised to enroll closer to home following the spring semester, and CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman has South Florida pegged as the most likely landing spot. He also mentioned that Notre Dame will likely not release Lynch to Miami, Florida or Florida State.
For what it's worth, Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune says otherwise.
If this is indeed the case and Lynch is set on playing closer to home, then USF must feel rather confident about the prospect of landing one of the nation’s premier defensive talents. Had Lynch planned to attend USF all along, then these apparent restrictions are not an issue. Still, these restrictions are the greater issue at hand and this stretches beyond one player and one team.
This is not the first time the 2012 offseason has seen a situation like this become the topic of conversation. Maryland found themselves in a similar spot when quarterback Danny O’Brien joined the 5,766 others that have decided to opt-out of the Turtle.
Head coach Randy Edsall initially blocked O’Brien (and others) from reuniting with James Franklin at Vanderbilt. Franklin recruited O’Brien while serving as the offensive coordinator at Maryland, which is a relationship Edsall would have rather not seen rekindled.
The aftermath of Edsall’s decision spread quickly, as did the scathing columns and intense negativity surrounding a program that certainly didn’t need more bad PR. After taking in the boos, Edsall lifted this block, saying that he wants “what’s best for these guys” and that he wished them well going forward.
Had this truly been the case, the conflict never would have surfaced. Edsall would’ve allowed these players to attend whatever school they pleased, and no further damage would have been done. This was a reaction to a reaction, not a change of heart. A change of heart requires an epiphany of some sort, while this was merely damage control. And while O’Brien and others were given transfer freedom, which is most important, the damage was already done.
Each transfer will present its own set of unique circumstances. Players leave for different reasons, on different terms and have a unique relationship with their coach or environment that is no longer conducive to their future. Coaches understand this as well, and those that have led a team long enough have been on both sides of the equation.
Notre Dame is poised to have some say in where Lynch will play out the rest of his college career (well, potentially). As Feldman pointed out, however, they just accepted the transfer of Amir Carlisle. Carlisle transferred from USC, who allowed their player to transfer to perhaps their biggest rival.
A coach has the prerogative to veto an athlete’s transfer wishes for whatever reasons he may see fit. This is the problem, and the inconsistencies within inconsistent circumstances have set a dangerous precedent.
In reality, what are coaches really afraid of? Embarrassment? Are they actually concerned with how one player could impact their BCS path in one (potential) game the following year?
The potential embarrassment on the field could pale in comparison to the damage you could do off of it (see: Maryland). Players, aka recruits, are very aware when coaches restrict these landing spots, as are the coaches of other teams recruiting for these same players. Beyond these potential ramifications, it does nothing to improve the on-the-field product. Blocking a player from attending a particular school does nothing to further the betterment of a program.
It’s a strategic move, only it’s more ego-driven than anything else. In some cases, like Maryland and Vanderbilt, the reasons stretched beyond rivals, conference or scheduling. Others like Lynch’s current transfer options and pending limitations make more sense on the surface. And although the reasoning might makes sense, it still doesn't make it right.
Coaches are permitted to leave for a different job at any moment they see fit. Outside of a potential financial ding, they can drop their clipboard, hop on a plane and pick up a shiny new clipboard (with a new logo, of course) and be on their way in a new city. We see this all time, and Brian Kelly left his post at Cincinnati not too long ago to take the job in South Bend.
We certainly don’t blame him for that.
The Notre Dame job is one of the nation’s most desirable landing spots, and it also came with substantial bank account perks. He left with years remaining on his current deal, introduced himself and was recruiting as his former team prepared for the Sugar Bowl. This is not to single Kelly out by any means, but instead a reminder of how freely the coaching door swings.
For players, this freedom is unknown.
Let them play in the same conference, let them play for a rival and let them play where they want to play. You can be bitter about it, you can disagree with it and you can cringe when they make the first game-changing play in a new uniform.
That’s the anticipated reaction when forced into a situation like this.
But, so is doing the right thing.