Bob Smizik: Franklin wrong for poaching Vandy recruits

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The seamy side of college athletics has been exposed in recent days and I’m not talking about Bill O’Brien walking out on Penn State for the NFL or about James Franklin walking out on Vanderbilt for Penn State. Both men probably broke promises, either implied or explicit, but in the seamy world of college athletics promises as well as contracts are made to be broken.

Nor was there anything illegal about Franklin stealing -- which is a far more appropriate word for the practice than the commonly used "flipping" -- recruits from Vanderbilt. He hadn’t been on the job 24 hours when it was reported two of Vanderbilt’s prized recruits would be renouncing their verbal commitments and following him to Penn State.

Bad enough Franklin walked out on Vanderbilt after three seasons on the job when he earlier had suggested he was intent on ''sinking roots deep" into the Nashville community and that Vanderbilt was ''not a stepping stone," but ''a destination." That’s a common cheap trick in the bag full of cheap tricks college coaches employ.

But after stepping on the neck of the Vandy football program with his departure, his parting shot was a kick in the teeth. Is there no decency whatsoever in the coaching profession?

I fully understand the young men in question -- offensive tackle Chance Sorrell from Ohio and defensive end/linebacker Lloyd Tubman from Kentucky -- were not officially bound to Vanderbilt. But just once couldn’t there be honor among coaches? Franklin should be ashamed. He had to know he was hurting Vanderbilt, the school that gave him his first head coaching job, more than he was helping Penn State.

Athletics, as we all know, are extremely competitive. It starts in Little League and only gets worse. So maybe it’s too much for the men in the actual competition to behave like gentlemen. But where are the colleges in this morass? Why can’t our institutions of higher learning get ahold of the stinking mess than is college sports and rein in some of the disgrace?

For starters: A rule that a departing coach cannot take recruits with him. If the young men, in this particular case, don’t want Vanderbilt, that’s their right. But they can’t follow Franklin to Penn State.

It was suggested in the comment section yesterday that's a bit unfair and schools should insist on language in their original contract with the coach that would prevent the coach from taking recruits or players with them to their next job.

That makes perfect sense. Except for this: The NCAA -- which is nothing more than its member institutions -- has shown an incredible refusal to put any contractual limits on coaches. They can change jobs with impunity, even while under contract. But players, who are under one-year contracts, must sit out a year if they want to change "jobs."

What is truly mystifying is why the colleges refuse to take steps to curtail the loose language in contracts. No contract can force a coach to work where he does not want to work But a well-written contract can stop a coach from working elsewhere. Not only are the easy outs in contracts wrong, they are a reason for the outrageous escalation in coaching salaries.

I have asked this question of college administrators and never received a satisfactory answer: Why aren’t coaching contract written so they cannot be broken?

All of the major pro sports in this country have ironclad contracts for their coaches. Professional coaches cannot change jobs until their contracts expire. What’s hard about that? If the rules that exist in college coaching were allowed in the NFL, the Steelers would have lost Chuck Noll probably after his first Super Bowl and certainly after his second; Bill Cowher after appearing in his first Super Bowl and Mike Tomlin after two years on the job.

If there are lawyers reading this, perhaps they could offer an explanation for why colleges either can’t or won’t enforce contracts.

As for Franklin, he’s off to a great start in Happy Valley. The fans -- the same ones who castigated O’Brien for leaving early -- are in love. It’s almost as if they have no idea Franklin did exactly to Vanderbilt what O’Brien did to Penn State.


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