Coaches tell Spurrier what they think of ‘business as usual’
by Tony Basilio
It didn’t take Steve Spurrier long to perform his first miracle at South Carolina. In a couple of short months, Spurrier has managed to do the unimaginable: he’s caused a rift in the usually close-knit Carolina family.
It’s a remarkable feat, when you consider that the head football coach at S.C. is generally treated as a de facto deity in the Palmetto State. But in St. Steve’s case, the canonization will have to wait. In one fell swoop, Spurrier committed six egregious errors that could impact his program for years to come.
Spurrier received an unexpected correspondence at the end of July from the South Carolina Football Coaches Association’s board of directors. In a move that could be considered one part admonishment and one part warning, the group faxed a letter to Spurrier and USC Athletics Director Eric Hyman condemning the decision to strip the scholarships of six Gamecock players. Through the oft-practiced but seldom scrutinized act of cutting guys in good academic standing loose, Spurrier is actually facing some public shame for a truly shameful act.
Spurrier is not the first to take over a college football job and clean house. But the Ol’ Ball Coach is the first in my recollection to get publicly slapped for such a shortsighted, selfish decision.
In many ways, college football players are the disenfranchised of all disenfranchisees. In cases such as this one, they simply have no recourse. Forget recourse, they have no rights. Spurrier is the latest to illustrate just how powerless “student athletes” are in the stacked deck known as NCAA Division 1-A sports.
It should be noted that the unfortunate six were not bad actors, just substandard football players. All six were in good academic standing when they were cut from their scholarships. It is shameful that the NCAA would tolerate this kind of behavior from its member coaches, but unfortunately it’s business as usual. Parents assume (and rightfully so) that when their children sign scholarship papers, that schools are going to be committed to their kids. What they don’t understand is that scholarships are only year-to-year propositions. Do you think Lou Holtz told these families during the recruiting process that he was going to re-evaluate these “student-athletes” annually? Guess again. No one in his right mind would agree to that kind of arrangement. But that’s the NCAA.
Spurrier was the first to tell the media in South Carolina that he didn’t violate any NCAA rules by cutting the unfortunate six. The rules state that schools must inform athletes whether their scholarships will be renewed, reduced or revoked by July 1. Spurrier gave the unfortunates the word in late June. That gave each “student-athlete” ample opportunity to find another place to play. That is, if you call four weeks ample opportunity. Imagine this being done to your family member.
The coaches in South Carolina had seen enough of this injustice. The letter fired off to Spurrier and subsequently to other media outlets in the state rebuked him with the following verbiage: “We, the S.C. Football Coaches Association board of directors, are all about commitment, and USC’s lack of commitment to its recruited players has prompted our action.”
Using what could be considered fighting words, the coaches termed Spurrier’s decision to cast off the unfortunate six as “unethical.” They reasoned that the players involved had not broken team rules and therefore didn’t deserve to lose their scholarships. Compounding the embarrassment for Spurrier, he was appearing at SEC Media Days in Birmingham before hundreds of reporters when the story broke. Don’t cry for Steve, though, because he sure isn’t crying for his deeds. “We can’t let the high school coaches association run our program,” he told reporters.
Because he has since reassigned two of the scholarships to former walk-on players, Spurrier hid behind the cloak of his alleged benevolence. “These guys were here when we got here,” Spurrier said. “We felt like maybe these [other] guys were more deserving. Simple as that. We’ve got to look at it from a total picture. We’ve got to put the best guys out there that really want to play. So one guy’s sad and one guy’s happy,” Spurrier told The State newspaper in Columbia.
One guy who could be sad in the long run is Spurrier. Here’s hoping the entire state thinks twice before sending their precious children to go and play for a guy who has proven what he’s all about.
It seems appropriate to point out that this cavalier cutting of lesser scholarship athletes has never happened at UT under Phillip Fulmer. For this Fulmer needs no praise. In light of the goings-on at South Carolina, though, it seems appropriate to give him an “atta boy” just the same. And while I’m passing out plaudits, congrats are in order to the high school coaches in South Carolina who have had enough of NCAA business as usual. Maybe at some level, Spurrier will be ashamed of himself for martyring the unfortunate six. m
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