Matthew Thomas could possibly start a troubling trend in college sports. In February, on National Signing Day, Thomas, a high school senior, signed his letter of intent to play linebacker for Florida State. The ceremony was filled with the normal pomp and circumstance that comes with a five-star player signing and was aired live on ESPNU. Thomas pulled out an FSU hat, put it on and signed his papers to become a Seminole.
There was one problem. Thomas now alleges that he never really wanted to play for the Seminoles and only signed with them because his mother wanted him to. He said he couldn’t make up his mind because there was a problem (distance, playing time, education) with each of the schools he had visited.
Essentially, he chose FSU to appease his mother and end the grueling process — and now he wants out.
Typically, the NCAA forces college football and basketball players to sit out a year when transferring to another Division I school. That makes sense. Without such a rule, players could move around based on who they thought was going to be the best team the next year.
The school from which the player is transferring has the option to “release” them from their scholarship, thus allowing them to play immediately and not have to sit out. Schools often do that with players who are lost on the depth chart and never really have a chance of playing on their team. That’s not Matthew Thomas.
However, that hasn’t stopped some in the media from imploring Florida State to release him from his scholarship, allowing him to transfer to either USC or Georgia and play this fall. If Thomas is allowed to do so, it could fundamentally change the recruiting process along the way.
First of all, it would make any letters of intent signed on Signing Day worthless. Anyone who follows recruiting at all knows that players change their minds … a lot. Up until Signing Day, a player might make verbal commitments to two, three, or even four schools. It isn’t until that letter of intent is signed and faxed in that schools can relax. Once that is done, the race is over and they can move forward knowing what recruits they are bringing in.
Obviously, if Thomas is granted his release, that could all change.
How else could this change recruiting? Don’t you think there are some kids that signed with Oregon because they wanted to play for Chip Kelly? Well, they won’t get that chance unless they eventually play for the Philadelphia Eagles. Should they be allowed to transfer at this point in the process?
It might seem harsh, but once you sign up to play at a school, you’ve made a commitment. Of course you can change your mind, but sometimes there is a penalty to pay.
How about the recruiting process itself? Wouldn’t coaches continue to call a player, hoping to get him to back out of his commitment up until the day they moved into their dorm?
In addition, what about players that would have loved to sign with FSU, only to be denied that opportunity because the last scholarship went to Thomas? Those guys had to find a second option, and now can’t back out of those commitments — or can they now?
This is pretty straight forward. If Matthew Thomas has made up his mind and is set on “transferring” to another school, that’s entirely up to him and I wish him well. He’s going to be a star. But to allow him to transfer and ignore his signed letter of intent would be dangerous. This type of thing could happen on an annual basis.
College recruiting is chaotic and corrupt enough. Allowing kids to back out of their commitments without any penalty would make it the Wild West.