Sheldon Jeter was promising last season. The Vanderbilt freshman averaged 17.5 minutes and 5.5 points per game for the Commodores in 2012-13, the kind of performance that positioned him as a fulcrum of Vanderbilt's arduous post-John Jenkins/Jeffrey Taylor/Festus Ezeli rebuilding effort. The future was bright.
The only problem? Jeter doesn't want to play at Vanderbilt anymore. On Friday, the Beaver Falls, Pa., native announced his intentions to transfer closer to home "due to personal issues." Bummer, but hey, it happens, right? Transfers are a part of the modern college game, unfortunately. Vanderbilt would have to wave farewell and hope other newcomers could take over Jeter's prospective role.
If only things were so simple. On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ray Fittipaldo reported, according to multiple sources, that coach Kevin Stallings was blocking Jeter's transfer to Pittsburgh, which is a 20-minute drive from Beaver Falls, Jeter's hometown. That leaves Jeter and his family to appeal Stallings' decision to Vanderbilt's athletics department brass. If that appeal fails, Jeter will be forced to either find another school or pay Pittsburgh tuition for a season before he can become eligible for a scholarship.
There are a few unknowns here. The first is whether Stallings prevented Jeter from transferring to schools other than Pittsburgh. Another is why Stallings would bother blocking Jeter's transfer to Pittsburgh in the first place. It is not unusual for coaches to stipulate that transfers not be allowed to play for conference opponents or local rivals, but Pitt and Vanderbilt share neither of those connections.
The most frequent off-the-record reason given for this sort of blockage is tampering by the destination program, but there is no evidence of that here. It may well be that Stallings is displeased that his star freshman wants to attend a school that showed interest in him but didn't have a scholarship to offer in 2012-13, especially after Jeter proved himself on Stallings' watch. For their part, the Commodores aren't offering any clarification. When reached by ESPN.com Tuesday afternoon, a Vanderbilt spokesman said only that Stallings "doesn't have any comment."
Whatever the reasons and scope of Stallings' decision, it should not be received well. St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli has never quite recovered from the hit his reputation rightfully took after he stuck little-used transfer Todd O'Brien in NCAA purgatory because, as O'Brien told Sports Illustrated in 2011, Martelli said O'Brien had "wronged him." Bo Ryan came under fire in 2012 for the Jarrod Uthoff transfer saga, in which Wisconsin's hugely restrictive "blocked" list was eventually whittled down thanks in no small part to widespread public outcry.
People get mad when they hear these stories, and for good reason. College basketball coaches are not only wildly compensated, but able to jump from job to job essentially at will, each new buyout clause superseded by the last. College players, meanwhile, must wait a year to play for a new school as a baseline, even if -- as is usually the case -- their request to transfer is granted and their desired school is approved. The fact that coaches have such tight control over the release and eventual destination of a player on a renewable but non-guaranteed one-year scholarship -- a player who can be run off at a moment's notice and still have to sit out a year -- reeks of the NCAA's antiquated patriarchy in its most odious form.
There may be a valid reason for Stallings' decision, at least by his own reckoning. Or maybe the coach just doesn't want to lose a key piece of his rebuilding effort. Maybe he feels betrayed -- "wronged," as Martelli famously put it.
Unfortunately, none of it matters. All we see from the outside is a college coach telling a player he can't go somewhere based on what amounts to a whim. It is the worst possible look.