Pretend for a moment you are a decision-maker within the University of Maryland athletic department. You woke up Monday morning to read that your new football coach, Randy Edsall, informed his UConn players of his intention to take your job by getting on an airplane intercom via telephone (he was not on the Huskies' plane for the team's flight back to Connecticut after a four-touchdown Fiesta Bowl loss in Arizona) and giving them a brief explanation.
Through an unidentified UConn player via the Hartford Courant, you also learned that Edsall's on-board message came less than 24 hours after running back Jordan Todman -- at Edsall's urging -- addressed the team in the Fiesta Bowl locker room to tell them he was forgoing his senior year to enter the NFL draft.
So, the question: Do you, Maryland honcho, wonder if you've made a mistake?
Do you wonder about the message your new coach is sending to players he recruited to play for him at UConn? Does it occur to you that some of the human qualities he preached to his players were forgotten when it was his turn to display them? And since your team is nowhere near the kind of final-destination program a guy like Edsall undoubtedly covets, do you wonder how long it will be before he does the same thing to you and your players?
Or, more likely, is this just business as usual in the fetid Superfund site that is college football?
Well, of course it is. Outside of the Huskies' locker room and the season-ticket list at UConn, nobody really cares whether Edsall followed the proper etiquette in leaving one job for another. It's the way things are done. Coaches who do a good job at a less glamorous place leave for more money at a more glamorous place (although, in this case, the glamour factor is pretty much a dead heat). The players lose in the end, like they always do, because none of this is really about them. It's about the process, and within the enormous insatiable machine, the players are disposable.
Edsall isn't the first, or anywhere near the worst, transgressor. Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino and Edsall's 12 years in Storrs speak to that. But when I was reading about a ticked-off UConn freshman complaining about Edsall's mode of exit, I thought about the Ohio State players competing in Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl despite violations of NCAA rules that will cost them the first five games of next season.
(The open admission that these players were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl as a concession to sponsors and the alleged integrity of the bowl game is one of the more revealing glimpses into the corruption of the process.)
And I was thinking about Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's reported ultimatum: Each of the five players had to promise to return to the Buckeyes next season for Tressel to play them in New Orleans. News reports indicate Tressel would not have allowed any of the players to board the plane if they hadn't pledged to be Buckeyes next year.
Therefore, if we are to believe Tressel, he essentially blackmailed Terrelle Pryor into returning next season. Seriously, is there any other word for it?
Aside from being morally reprehensible, it's another example of how the players are pawns in the process. A school rakes in millions upon millions on the low-paid backs of people such as Pryor and Boom Herron, and then all hell breaks loose when we discover that those players have traded their fame for tattoos and other incidentals.
But a coach can transform the work produced on those low-paid backs into even more millions for themselves, and that's just the way of the world? Something doesn't compute.
By publicizing his ultimatum, Tressel essentially has set up a gauntlet for Pryor and the other four Buckeyes. He has created a scenario in which holy hell will reign down upon them from the Buckeyes' fan base -- and all the moralists in the punditocracy -- if they "renege" on their supposed pledge.
But you know what? Maybe it's time for the players to start acting like the coaches. If Pryor grades out as one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the draft, he should by all means declare rather than miss the first five games of next season. In fact, starting the second after he announces for the draft, he should set up a stand on the busiest street corner in Columbus and sell his autograph until his fingers bleed.
We can argue the process all we want, but there's nothing wrong with Edsall taking a better job and leaving kids he recruited at UConn. There's nothing wrong with the impending departure of Jim Harbaugh from Stanford (although, frankly, it's hard to imagine someone being smugger and condescending along the way). In fact, given that ambition runs down Harbaugh's chin like slobber from a rabid dog, he absolutely should leave for Michigan or the NFL. There's nothing left for him at Stanford, and Stanford knows it can't compete with the kind of momentum that is collecting at Harbaugh's back. He's a phenomenal coach, and it's perfectly understandable for him to want to take it to the highest bidder at the highest level.
But why do we hold the athletes to such a different standard? If it's OK for Edsall and Harbaugh to leave, it's OK for Pryor to leave, too. It's OK for him to reconsider his promise to Tressel in the same way Edsall undoubtedly reconsidered his promise to every freshman in a UConn uniform and every one of the parents he wooed in the living room.
Leave. It's OK. Go somewhere else and prosper. Profit as much as you can along the way. Just acknowledge one fact: The system is rigged to reward the Edsalls and screw the Pryors.