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. He supports the one-year sitout rule for all sports. Holder said baseball voted on a proposal last year to make its players sit out, though the measure failed. "I think it's a mutual agreement, a contract between two parties," Holder said of a scholarship. "If either decides to break it, there should be some consequences." But agreement is weighted in the schools' favor. Players face a penalty for leaving. Schools do not face a penalty for revoking the scholarship, which are granted only on an annual basis. Pulled scholarships are rare. "You have to have a good reason not to do that," Holder said. "If you indiscriminately do that, word travels fast. You're not going to be very successful." Maybe. But it's still not equitable. Would mass free agency lead to problems? Yes. But they could be dealt with. In fact, the solutions could be quite charming. For instance, coaches leaving and taking players with them would be a concern. Schools could counter by enforcing contracts. The one-way nature of college coaching contracts is ridiculous. A coach's commitment means absolutely nothing. That needs to change. Pro coaches are held to their contracts. Do the same in college. Police the breaking of contracts. Indiana can't permissibly tamper with Oklahoma players; why can it tamper with the Oklahoma coach? Coaching contracts might shorten. The cult of the coach could lessen. Can anyone else sing hallelujah? Another possible fix: graduation rates. The current best defense against schools pulling scholarships is the new Academic Progress Rating, which penalizes schools that have poor athletic graduating rates. OU athletic director Joe Castiglione is willing to negotiate. Relax the graduation requirements, and he'll vote to relax the transfer rule. I'll buy it. The graduation frenzy is misguided. Athletic departments suddenly are in the diploma business; that's dangerous territory. Let academic deans, not athletic directors, stand sentry over graduation. "Most problems with graduation rates relate to students leaving school before they complete their eligibility," Castiglione said. "If you wouldn't hold schools accountable, I wouldn't be as strongly opposed to it as I am." So there. Players are treated fairly and potholes are patched. Full steam ahead. Berry Tramel: 475-3314, firstname.lastname@example.org. His radio show, The Writers Block, can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m. on KREF-AM 1400, KADA-AM 1230 and KSEO-AM 750.
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