Robert Marve found out this week he was never anything more than a mercenary, just a pair of swift legs with a strong arm brought to the University of Miami to win games. It's how it is in most college football programs.
He once thought otherwise. It's easy to get confused.
College football players are called "student athletes" after all. The NCAA spends tens of millions on a public relations campaign that stresses the games are a tool for kind-hearted coaches to take "kids" and mold them into "men" who then go "pro in something other than sports."
Marve no doubt was told that by joining the Miami "family" he'd have numerous "father figures" on campus. He enrolled with high hopes.
It didn't work out. After two years, one season and 11 starts he wanted to transfer. Miami coach Randy Shannon said he could but only before taking what is one of the NCAA's most ethically empty traditions and putting it on steroids.
Schools commonly limit where a player can transfer, often excluding other schools within their conference.
Shannon took it to the extreme. According to Marve, he was prohibited from transferring to 27 schools.
That included all 11 of the other teams in the ACC, all 12 in the SEC and four others in the state of Florida. Even lower-level programs such as Florida International apparently now terrify the Hurricanes.
Friday evening, after this column was originally posted, Miami softened its stance slightly and now will allow Marve to transfer on scholarship to any SEC school other than Florida, LSU and Tennessee. Miami alleges those schools were tampering with the player. The ACC and in-state ban stands, though.
Marve hails from Tampa. His father Eugene has prostate cancer, and while it's not the stated reason for the transfer, Marve understandably wants to stay in the Southeast, if not in state.
This is always a shameful practice. Marve is just one of many players from many programs dealing with it. No university should ever, under any circumstance, be allowed to prohibit a player's future due to competitive fears. Even if Miami's tampering allegation is true – Marve has denied it to the Associated Press – the Hurricanes should take it up with the other schools, not the player. It has nothing to do with the other ACC or in-state schools, yet those bans remain.
The player should be allowed to transfer at full scholarship in conference, in state or across the street if he wants.
Anything less isn't just un-American, it's an admission that winning is everything. There is no decent argument for this except fear of losing. This isn't a non-compete clause for business execs, these are college students.
It's wrong not just for the coach and athletic director who draw it up (in this case Shannon and Kirby Hocutt), but the conference commissioner (John Swofford) and NCAA president (Myles Brand) who allow it.
It speaks to the widespread lack of courage and leadership in college athletics. Anyone with any of it would take one look at the practice and end it. Naturally no one says a word.
You can only expect so much out of a football coach; these guys are trained to be ruthless. They're so gone they don't even recognize the problem. Worse is that Brand and Swofford, the adults who should know better, aren't tough enough to explain it to them.
For the NCAA it's completely dishonest. The organization and its individual programs enjoy tax-free status and thus beat the federal government out of billions annually. This is just amateur sports, they argue, nothing more than an extracurricular activity.
But you never see a school prohibit someone on a theater scholarship from transferring.
Shannon deserves special scorn and extra analysis by potential Hurricane recruits because of the outrageous breadth of the provisions. Not that you can be a little bit pregnant, but banning Marve from so many schools takes this practice to a new level of Machiavellian behavior.
More than personally punishing Marve, what Shannon is really trying to do is intimidate his other players – dare to leave and I'll bury you.
The reason Marve, or any player from any school, wants to transfer doesn't matter. It never should.
It doesn't matter who's right or who's wrong. It doesn't matter if Marve had off-field issues or was a model citizen. It doesn't matter if Marve is just being impulsive or if Shannon drove him out. It doesn't matter if this is about football, school or offensive coordinators. It doesn't matter if Marve woke up one day and decided he never wanted to see a palm tree again.
If he wants to transfer, he should be able to transfer. Anywhere he wants, no questions asked. Football programs take recruits based on frivolous things such as favorite colors. They can't reasonably expect deeper if they want to go. Besides, Marve already has to sit out one season as punishment.
Marve's high school coach says Miami won't get any more players from his powerhouse program. Eugene Marve says every recruit should take a long look at what Shannon is really about.
And they should. Clearly at Miami you're a piece of meat. If you're going to go there, you better hope and pray it works out. If not, they might try to bully you off to the other end of the country.
Recruits should also ask every other school pursuing them what would happen under similar circumstances, however. If told they can leave at will, they should get it in writing. While Miami's case is extreme, there are plenty of rival coaches watching to see if such broad limitations are the wave of the future. A tradition that was wrong from day one might wind up worse than ever.
These "teacher-coaches" are a lot alike.
So are athletic directors, conference commissioners and NCAA executives. They're too craven to do the right thing, if they're even still capable of recognizing it.
- Robert Marve
- Eugene Marve