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Unfair system

Mallett shouldn't pay price for UM's coaching change

Posted: Wednesday January 30, 2008 12:02PM; Updated: Wednesday January 30, 2008 4:45PM
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Ryan Mallett
After transferring to Arkansas, Ryan Mallett must sit out for one season before resuming his playing career.
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The ugly parting of the ways between West Virginia and former coach Rich Rodriguez continues, longer and more drawn out than even the college bowl season.

It has been a bitter battle, with each side hurling recriminations at the other and haggling over money, as in any nasty divorce. The latest development is the offer from Rodriguez, who broke his contract with the Mountaineers to take the Michigan job, to pay West Virginia $1.5 million to leave him alone.

Seems like a reasonable attempt to settle things, except for the fact that his contract with the university called for a $4 million buyout.

But the two parties will eventually come to some sort of agreement, and frankly, we couldn't care less what that compromise is, since both sides have become equally tiresome.

Rodriguez is just another ambitious coach, a native son of West Virginia who swore his love for his state and his school before abruptly bolting for a higher-profile program and a bigger paycheck.

West Virginia is a big-time football program that ought to realize disloyal coaches are part of the business, instead of embarrassing itself by acting like a jilted girlfriend who keeps bugging her ex to get every last CD back. May they come to a meeting of the minds soon, because they're boring the rest of us to tears.

The only people to root for in this whole flame war are the players caught in the crossfire, the collateral damage -- most notably quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Mallett, a freshman, was supposed to be Michigan's next great quarterback, until the Wolverines hired Rodriguez to replace Lloyd Carr. Rodriguez's spread-option offense requires a quick, nimble quarterback who is as dangerous with his feet as with his arm -- not a classic dropback passer like Mallett.

It was telling that one of Rodriguez's first calls upon taking the Michigan job was to high school stud Terrelle Pryor, a QB who seems to fit his offense perfectly. Mallett didn't need it to be spelled out for him: his services at Michigan were no longer required.

He had essentially two choices -- stay at Michigan and quite possibly sit on the bench the rest of his career, or transfer to another Division I school and sit out a season. He chose the latter, transferring to Arkansas two weeks ago.

So next fall, while Rodriguez is coaching the Wolverines, and while West Virginia is battling to make it back to another BCS bowl, Ryan Mallett won't be able to do anything on Saturdays except sit and watch and wait.

It is grossly unfair that Rodriguez can jump from one school to another without missing so much as a snap, that West Virginia will get a few million dollars in return for his departure, while Mallett gets nothing but a year of inactivity. Forget the money that will change hands between the coach and the university, the one who is paying most dearly in this scenario is a player who had nothing to do with it all. But that's the way it is in Division I college sports -- teenage players are held to a higher standard of commitment than the adults who coach their teams.

Mallett, by the way, might not have made the wisest choice in heading for Arkansas, where his new coach is Bobby Petrino, who abandoned the Atlanta Falcons with three games left in the season when the Razorbacks came calling. Given Petrino's lack of regard for a little thing like a contract, it won't be a shocker if Mallett has another coach leave him high and dry before his eligibility expires.

In a perfect world, athletes wouldn't base their college selection so heavily on a coach or a system, but in the real world, that's often how it's done. When a player has the circumstances change as drastically as they did for Mallett at Michigan, he shouldn't be penalized by having to sit out a year in order to find a better situation, any more than Rodriguez should have to wait a year because he wanted a better job.

This isn't to say that athletes should be able to jump from school to school with complete freedom, but in the case of a coaching change like the one at Michigan, the NCAA ought to have the flexibility to allow a transfer without the requisite one-year waiting period. Let Rich Rodriguez pay for his decision to switch schools. Ryan Mallett shouldn't have to.

Of course, the reason for the one-year waiting period for transfers is to discourage players from abandoning a school before they have fulfilled their commitment to it. Gee, where on earth would they get the idea to do that?