The great Wisconsin paperwork caper

April, 19, 2012
4/19/12
9:31
AM ET
Editor's Note: In a heated exchange on Mike & Mike Thursday morning, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan weighed in on Jarrod Uthoff's appeal to transfer, why he is barring Uthoff from moving to certain schools and more. Ryan says his actions are within the rules and common in college basketball. Listen to the full interview here.

One last post about the Jarrod Uthoff transfer saga, and that’s it. No more. Never again. I promise. Probably, anyway.

But come on: I couldn’t not blog about this. From ESPN’s Andy Katz and the Associated Press in this ESPN.com news report:
Ryan said he was told that Uthoff didn’t hand in his appeal. He later learned that the appeal was put in assistant athletic director Justin Doherty’s mailbox in an envelope without a stamp. Ryan disputed a report that Uthoff dropped off the appeal and said a woman did in his place.

Uthoff told the AP that he had a friend deliver the letter to the office of Doherty before the deadline and a secretary put it in his mailbox.

“Apparently, he didn’t check his mailbox,” Uthoff said.

After three days of confusion and recrimination and diatribes from all sides -- from Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan disallowing every ACC school, Marquette and Iowa State (in addition to the Big Ten, which is common practice) to Uthoff saying he would appeal with the school, to a source telling me no appeal was received as of Tuesday night -- there’s your answer for why this transfer situation has become so MUBAR’d (messed up beyond all recognition; it’s my family-friendly variation): Because the mail got mixed up.

Seriously. A stampless letter that went unnoticed. That’s all it was. That’s kind of amazing, right?

Now that the letter has been recovered and everybody is on the same page -- or at least aware of the same page, in said aforementioned envelope -- Wisconsin and Uthoff can leave the logistical messiness behind and get down to the real, live transfer and appeal process. Per the report linked above, “Jarrod is going to be afforded the normal, NCAA-described appeal process,” Doherty said.

That’s good news. But it doesn’t get to the heart of the situation, which is summed up rather nicely by these two points from Ryan:
“There are rules of a scholarship,” Ryan said. “I didn’t make them up. […] Coaches told me they can appeal and win but there is a process. I haven’t lied. I’m on the [coaches] board and have taken stands on unpopular things. But this is something that all coaches do. I didn’t make the rules. I’m just following them."

That is, I’m sorry to say, a copout.

There is a crucial distinction between what the rules allow Ryan to do and what they require him to do. The rules allow him to place schools on a banned list. They don’t require him to carve out entire swaths of the college hoops map -- the Atlantic Coast Conference, to be exact -- because of the slight chance that the school Uthoff transfers to will play Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge one day. Ryan could have left every school in the country (save the Big Ten) on Uthoff’s potential permission-to-contact list and still have been following the rules. He isn’t merely following the rules -- he’s proactively working within them. There’s a difference.

Because the rules allow this, coaches are safely ensconced behind the “I didn’t make the rules!” gambit your least favorite teacher so frequently called up. But that doesn’t mean they should. They shouldn’t. Far as I can tell, few disagree.

In the end, it’s not like this is the crime of the century. Uthoff still has quality possibilities out there, including a possible move to Creighton. But every offseason, we have at least one of these kinds of scenarios -- wherein a player is restricted from transferring to a school he wants to attend because a coach has disallowed him from doing so. Railing against this gets tiring! I’m not having fun! Are you? But here we are, every offseason, because the rule needs to change.

College basketball players already have to burn a year on the bench if they want to change schools. We’re still waiting on mass adoption of four-year scholarship agreements, to say nothing of a cost-of-attendance stipend. There’s so much about the NCAA’s amateur model that is outdated, wrongheaded or just plain wrong.

We can argue about many of those things. But the ability of a coach to control his transferring player’s career in such authoritarian fashion -- it seems like a small thing, compared to the capital-Q amateurism Questions, but it’s little things like this that slowly and subtly grate at the public perception of the NCAA’s legitimately virtuous core mission. This is one we can all agree on.

Coaches: Let players go. Just … let them go.

NCAA committees: Change these rules.

Mr. Uthoff: Make sure your crucial, life-saving paperwork gets where it needs to be. Hire a bicycle messenger, if necessary. Those guys are good.

Wisconsin brass: Check your mail!

With our powers combined, we can avoid these kinds of exasperating, confusing, grating transfer debates in the future. Do we have a deal?

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