Guerry Clegg

Guerry Clegg: NCAA at fault in AJ Turman case

If it seems ridiculous that college football players want to unionize, consider the case of AJ Turman and the University of Georgia.

Turman has this crazy notion that since he’s the one who should make decisions that affect his life, present and future, rather than be used as a pawn to make a point. You know, sacrificing his body, his blood and his sweat. Pursuing an education and a career path other than football.

Turman has this crazy idea that he should want to actually see playing time for his efforts rather than be kept as an insurance policy that likely will never be cashed in.

Only, Georgia coach Kirby Smart has other ideas.

Turman is a career backup running back who for whatever reason never fit into the plans of the Georgia coaching staff. Early on it was injuries. But maybe he just wasn’t good enough. Maybe he didn’t fit into the offense. It doesn’t really matter. Turman gave it three years and decided it was time for a change of scenery. That’s understandable.

But there was one problem. Smart, who did not even recruit Turman for the Bulldogs, threw a blocking sled in front of the exit door. Initially, Smart didn’t even want to let Turman leave at all. He finally agreed … sort of. He said Turman could go back to his home state of Florida, provided that he not go to the University of Florida or Miami.

Smart has since softened his position. He said Turman can go anywhere he wants without having to sit out a year except to any school Georgia is playing — or Miami.

On one level, it’s a moot point because Turman said he never considered Miami. But Smart wants to make a point to the rest of the team. He said he’s only concerned about the precedent, not the people involved. What it says to me, though, is that Smart might be a little paranoid. Maybe others will get disillusioned after spring practice with the head coach.

That is somewhat understandable because most of Georgia’s players are still loyal to Richt.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity is backing Smart, which constitutes a complete reversal of his position before. McGarity’s change of heart may be a subtle statement as to who is now in complete charge at UGA. This appears to be Smart’s call all the way.

Smart made it a point to remind the media that the players are “students first.” Actually, they are young people first, then students, then athletes.

I don’t agree with Smart here, but I don’t want to paint him as the bad guy. It is certainly understandable that a coach would not want a player to go to another school and have the chance to beat him.

Let’s throw the NCAA under the bus instead. The problem is that the rules are unfairly slanted toward coaches and administration rather than the players. Kevin Steele can leave LSU with one year left on his contract to go coach at Auburn, which is a division rival, and it’s no big deal.

Smart’s point is that players make a commitment when they sign with a school. But in most cases, that commitment is not reciprocal. Players’ scholarships are one-year deals. Traditionally, schools have honored those scholarships for as long as the player is eligible, provided the player doesn’t get in trouble. But some coaches have been known to “encourage” some players they feel are not performing to transfer and free up a scholarship.

The NCAA makes up the rules and the players have no say-so in it. Here’s the deal. Take it or leave it.

This ought not to be Smart’s decision or McGarity’s. It ought to be the player’s. If they’re going to impose a year of sitting out, that year of lost eligibility should be added to the back end of his college career. There could be reasonable limitations, such as having a defined period in which players can transfer and limit the player’s number of transfers to one.

If coaches, administrators and the NCAA powers don’t want to players to unionize, it’s time they start listening to the college kids who are making them rich.

Guerry Clegg: sports@ledger-enquirer.com, @guerryclegg

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