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College stars deserve the right to be free agents

by Berry Tramel Published: June 9, 2006
Matt Storniolo wrestled for Penn State against Oklahoma in January 2004. The next winter, he made All-American for the Sooners.

Brae Wright pitched for Ole Miss in 2004. The next spring, he pitched for Oklahoma State.

One day this spring, Kelvin Sampson awoke as the Indiana basketball coach. He went to sleep the night before as the Sooner basketball coach.

They are among the privileged class of collegiate sport. The fortunate protected by arbitrary rules. They fly under the radar or above it.

They are not football or basketball players.

Exploitation is a common charge in NCAA sports. Mostly, that's a bogus theme. Athletes, even those on the big-time stage, particularly those on the big-time stage, are not misused. They are coddled and exalted.

But when it comes to freedom of movement, exploitation applies. It is unfair that athletes in the NCAA's most high-profile sports are not free to transfer without penalty of sitting out a season.

Free agency is needed in college football and basketball. Time to remove the shackles. Let quarterbacks and point guards, safeties and power forwards, come and go as they like.

Sounds harsh. Sounds chaotic. Sounds like anarchy. Sounds like the destruction of the entire structure of big-time college sports.

Precisely. But not for the reason you think.

The apocalypse has been forecast upon advent of free agency in every sport. Loss of parity is preached. The rich would get richer.

The opposite has occurred every single time. Baseball never was more stagnant than when player movement was shut. NFL free agency launched an incredible era of equality among teams, with losers quickly becoming winners and few perennial winners.

The same would happen in college ball. Talent would be spread over more schools. The big dogs who dominate recruiting in the first place would stand to lose the most. Little-engine schools that routinely cobble together rosters and compete at high levels would gain the most.

And athletes who seek a new address for reasons of homesickness or playing time, romance or personality conflict, would reap the same freedom as any other college student.

This is an absolute fairness question. Sampson jumps to Indiana, and Sampson's recruits are cut loose to pursue other adventures. Yet the circle is not complete: veterans like David Godbold, Michael Neal and Nate Carter are bound to OU, unless they want to give up a year of their life.

Most collegiate administrators would march on Washington to defeat this proposal.

OSU athletic director Mike Holder supports going the other way.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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