Unfair letter of intent for recruits is an idea whose time is past (Updated)

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Receivers coach Tony Ball is considering a move to LSU. (John Kelley
Receivers coach Tony Ball is considering a move to LSU. (John Kelley / UGA)

Receivers coach Tony Ball is considering a move to LSU. (John Kelley / UGA)

When word first surfaced this week that Georgia’s receivers coach, Tony Ball, was in the running for the same job at LSU, a couple of the Dawgs’ brand-new wide receiver signees were pretty ticked off.

As the AJC’s Michael Carvell reported, 5-star receiver Terry Godwin tweeted: “They really just waited till MY name was in INK to pull this.” And UGA signee Jayson Stanley lamented on Twitter: “I wake up and someone tell me coach ball leaving?”

Both tweets were later removed and Godwin apologized for his reaction, but the fact is that the players had every right to be upset that the man who recruited them to Georgia and was supposed to be their position coach might wind up leaving. After all, because they signed a national letter of intent, they don’t have the same option to change their minds and go elsewhere.

Those who support the continued use of the letter of intent to tie athletes to a school argue that you sign with a school, not the coaches. That sounds fine on the surface, but at the major college level there’s not a lot of difference between facilities, etc. at the various schools. The difference is the coaches.

As these players decide where they want to play their college ball, it’s all about the coaches, who are in charge of players’ lives, mentor them and, in effect, serve as a substitute parent. Players don’t pick a school based on whether it has an indoor practice facility or even cute coeds. A national or conference championship? Yeah, that will sway them, but even that is tied to the coach who engineered the title.

It’s the coaches, plain and simple. And when the coach you thought you were signing with then turns around almost immediately and leaves, while you’re locked in with the school where he previously worked, that’s completely unfair.

Now, in Ball’s case, it’s worth noting that he doesn’t appear to be in the same ethics-challenged territory as some coaches at other schools, like UCLA and Ohio State, who knew they were going to be leaving and sat on that information until after signing day last week. The job at LSU that Ball has interviewed for didn’t come open until this past Sunday, several days after signing day.

(See below for update on Ball.)

But, ethically, any coach who has an inkling he won’t be sticking around at his current school should be honest and tell his recruits that. Of course, realistically, that would never happen — which is a big reason why the LOI should be done away with.

And, until then, highly rated players should refuse to sign one, as Roquan Smith says he’s going to do after nearly getting caught in the coaching bait-and-switch by the Bruins.

UPDATE: Smith chose Georgia and signed his scholarship or grant-in-aid papers with UGA on Friday, though he declined to sign an LOI.

Most players didn’t realize it before Smith’s case came up, but they don’t have to sign an LOI in order to receive a scholarship to play football. They only need to sign a financial aid agreement with their chosen school.

As Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples so aptly put it, the LOI is the worst contract in all of sports because “it requires players to sign away their right to be recruited by other schools. If they don’t enroll at the school with which they signed, they forfeit a year of eligibility. Not a redshirt year, but one of their four years to play.”

In return, the letter of intent “guarantees the player nothing.”

Not even a scholarship. Actually, as Staples noted, “that is contingent on the player being admitted to the school and on the football program staying below the 85-scholarship limit. A school can dump the player at any point between Signing Day and preseason camp, and he would have no recourse.”

So the LOI is basically just a one-sided agreement that ties a recruit to a school while the coaches who recruited him are free to go elsewhere. And it will be even worse if an early signing day is instituted, which will just benefit the coaches while pressuring players into making quicker decisions with less information.

Like I said, the LOI should be abolished (or ignored by those highly-sought recruits who are enough in demand that they can get away with such a move). At the very least, it should be changed so that if a coach leaves the program (either head coach, his coordinator for his side of the ball, his position coach or his primary recruiter) before the player signs his scholarship papers, he is allowed to leave and sign somewhere else without penalty.

As for Ball, the situation with the man who’s been at UGA since 2006 and receivers coach since 2009 is interesting, in that he’s considering a lateral move, not usually considered the best way to advance a career.

Perhaps he’s simply grown tired of being on Mark Richt’s staff or is unhappy he wasn’t considered for offensive coordinator when Mike Bobo left. However, it seems more likely that money is the issue.

Ball earned $260,000 this past season at Georgia, plus $21,000 in supplementary expenses, and was one of the UGA coaches who did not get a pay hike in the recent round of big staff raises. Adam Henry, who left the LSU receivers coach job for a position with the San Francisco 49ers, recently had signed a new deal that would have paid him $375,000 this season.

So you’d have to figure Ball would make more money in Baton Rouge.

Of course, it could be that he simply hopes that this job opportunity elsewhere will get him a big salary increase in Athens, as happened previously with Jeremy Pruitt and others on the coaching staff.

After all, Greg McGarity seems eager to no longer be seen as the skinflint of the SEC.

UPDATE: Ball confirmed to the Athens Banner-Herald via text on Friday morning that he will join LSU’s staff to coach the same position.


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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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