sports (2007-10)

College Athlete as Hostage

Bound and gagged, not by rope but by contract

College Athlete as Hostage

by Tony Basilio

It seems appropriate that Bobby Bowden is the winningest coach in college football history. With his endearing reputation and his transparent faith, Bowden has shucks and golly-geed himself to a winning public persona that is now part Grandpa, southern comedian and impeccable preacher.

This century has derailed the once unstoppable Florida State machine. Eleven-win seasons, once the norm for St. Bobby, have given way to seven- and eight-win campaigns. Now Bowden is letting his true colors show. It's easy to be everybody's favorite jolly ole man when it's always going your way. Having to fire his own son as offensive coordinator during a tumultuous '06 schedule, Bowden is under the gun. So much so that he's holding his first college football hostage in Alcoa's own Brandon Warren.

Warren wants to transfer away from Florida State after a freshman season during which he garnered Associated Press freshmen first team All-America status. Sources close to the 19-year-old tell Metro Pulse that Warren wanted out of Florida State almost immediately after enrolling in Tallahassee last summer. Warren knew he made a mistake and wanted to come back home where his friends and his family were. Not only wasn't he happy in Seminole country, Warren was longing to be close to his mother who was fighting cancer.

Another source close to him says that Warren went to the coaches at FSU and conveyed his unhappiness and his concern about being away from his ill mother at the beginning of the football season. Their reaction? "Just play the season and let's see what happens." In other words, "We got you now, sucka!" Warren is exhibit 1A on the one-sidedness of the relationship between NCAA Division One athletes and the sports they play. While coaches routinely develop homesickness or unhappiness or a penchant for a bigger paycheck, which leads to immediate greener pastures, an athlete in the same predicament needs a virtual act of Congress to gain immediate eligibility at his new school of choice.

In the NCAA, what's good for the gander is not even available to the goose. Warren made the mistake of trusting that the NCAA had his back when he signed his National Letter of Intent (NLI). How? By signing it! The NLI binds an athlete to a college for one school year and vice versa. For this one-year only proposition, young people all over the country trade their freedom.

Student athletes like Warren have no recourse once they sign it. If he didn't sign it, FSU still would've taken him and he would be free to transfer to UT and get on the field immediately as a scholarship player. Now he has to sit out a year and, barring a release from FSU, Warren will have to pay his way to UT next year. Oh, and he'll also receive a penalty of losing one year off his college eligibility. In plain terms, the NLI is a purposely flawed document.

How could the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics not step in and allow a kid who wanted to be home near his mother who has/had a recent bout with cancer? That's an easy one. The NCAA abdicates responsibility of the NLI to an independent organization. Here's what the NLI's web site says about the origin of the document:

The National Letter of Intent program is not administered by the NCAA. Rather, the National Letter of Intent program is administered by the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA). The CCA was formed in 1939 to promote uniformity in football officiating and mechanics and to standardize interpretations of playing rules throughout the nation. Over the years the CCA has grown, but its mission has remained consistent over time, promoting uniformity and standard treatment of issues.

Uniformity and standard treatment indeed. Every student athlete who signs the NLI gets screwed in the same manner. What do football officiating and mechanics have to do with creating draconian documents that hold young people against their will? Brandon Warren would've had a better chance of defecting from the U.S.S.R. back in 1980 than he does of seeing the field next year at Tennessee.

Sunshine State sources tell me Bowden is convinced that Warren has been tampered with by UT. That notion has been intensified by the recent recruitment of Rae Sykes, who ended up choosing UT over FSU on February's National Signing Day. Sykes was shown around on his official visit to Florida State by his longtime boyhood friend Warren. Sykes signs with UT, then a couple weeks later, Warren moves back to East Tennessee.

Perhaps that's why Bowden has drawn a line in the sand by refusing to grant Warren a release. Warren, barring a cave-in by the untouchable FSU head coach, will become quite prominent in Seminole football history. He'll always be remembered as a Freshman All-American tight end and Bowden's first ever prized hostage. Meanwhile, the NCAA watches from afar as thousands of student athletes sign the NLI .

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit for more information.