Sam Craft/Associated Press
When it comes to the transfer freedom of student-athletes, the NCAA is a reactive organization. As issues arise, its rules belt is loosened one notch at a time, relaxing bylaws enough to temper criticism but never quite addressing the whole problem.
And, perhaps, not quite considering all possible ramifications.
The predicament the NCAA finds itself in concerning Santino Marchiol and Texas A&M is a product of its own nature.
As the NCAA, University of Michigan and University of Mississippi worked toward a resolution regarding Shea Patterson, the NCAA modified a rule about transfers.
The change stated that when a transfer is “due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete,” the player could be granted immediate eligibility.
“One source intimately involved in the process said the move from the NCAA ‘came out of nowhere,'” per Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.
Marchiol, who redshirted at Texas A&M in 2017 but has since transferred to Arizona, is seeking immediate eligibility. He might’ve found a loophole in that hasty modification.
Max Olson @max_olson
An interesting angle from @DanWolken story: I know players have used the “I’ll go to the media” threat to gain full release for transfer. Now that we have notification-of-transfer model, this move by Marichol seems like logical next step.
One simple phrase, “documented mitigating circumstances”—one intended to ease restrictions for players yet avoid giving them a ton of power—opened the floodgates for the ugliness of college football to come bursting out.
Regardless of whether the diehard fans choose to believe it, their favorite program has stretched, bent and broken rules. Coaches will do everything allowed to gain a competitive advantage—and some go a little bit further.
The claims made by Marchiol to USA Today‘s Dan Wolken about Texas A&M’s staff illuminate the pressure coaches are under to excel. Per the report, Aggies defensive coordinator Mike Elko basically made voluntary meetings in the summer mandatory.
“We’re going to have a lot of meetings and practices that aren’t technically required,” Elko said, per Marchiol, “but you guys have to be here because you’re way behind. We need to win.”
Marchiol said Elko would interfere with “voluntary” seven-on-seven sessions and provide correction if the defense was wrong.
Sam Craft/Associated Press
Marchiol also alleged his position coach, Bradley Dale Peveto, handed out $300 to him on one occasion and $400 on another to entertain recruits on unofficial visits. The NCAA might be interested in that, given its desire that athletes not be compensated.
However, it’s naive to believe impermissible contact and benefits—and also demeaning language, as mentioned in the USA Today piece—are uncommon in college football and to focus on those.
No, that doesn’t make it right. Breaking the rules is breaking the rules. The greater concern is where tough love becomes abusive.
Marchiol said he injured himself during a conditioning workout in June. He went to see the medical staff, who taped his ankle and told him to take four ibuprofens despite a Grade 2 sprain and possible ligament damage. Marchiol said he felt pressured into returning to practice and, as the week continued, his lower leg swelled and showed significant bruising.
There is a difference between playing hurt and being injured. When a coaching staff is fixated on “weeding out the weak” or “toughening you up,” that’s where mistakes are made. Maryland lineman Jordan McNair died because of poor oversight.
The NCAA is tasked to discover whether there was wrongdoing at Texas A&M while determining Marchiol’s waiver request.
Demands that Marchiol play through a serious injury, if verified, were outside of the student-athlete’s control. They would’ve directly impacted his health, safety and well-being.
John Bazemore/Associated Press
Start here: On an individual level, that’s a problem; inexcusable.
Think bigger: Marchiol is seeking a waiver for immediate eligibility. In that pursuit, because of the NCAA’s transfer rule tweak, he found something rare for student-athletes: leverage.
“When the stakes are this high, nobody should expect the student-athlete’s advocate to be pulling punches,” said Marchiol attorney Thomas Mars, who represented Patterson, per Wolken. “After all, what choice do you have when the transfer rules invite the disclosure of misconduct at the student-athlete’s former school as grounds for a waiver?”
The NCAA might endeavor to patch up that loophole, effectively acknowledging it’s worried about that discovered leverage.
Or, Marchiol’s claims are simply the beginning of transferring athletes using maltreatment as a waiver weapon. Even if it’s found not to apply in this particular situation, that’s something no school—or specifically, a staff member—guilty of mentally exploiting an athlete with a physical issue wants to hear.
Turns out you can’t be a jerk forever and get away with it.
Nobody is certain the far-reaching impact of this issue. It might even have a quick resolution and fade into the background as a brief, important preseason story. Maybe the Aggies get a slap on the wrist after Marchiol is granted eligibility at Arizona.
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Either way, coaches can and will continue challenging players mentally and physically. Pushing through pain and fatigue is far different than playing through injury, and athletes knowing the physical limits of their bodies is important to team performance.
But if cantankerous coaches have an increased level of care for the people in uniforms, the dark side of college football will be a little lighter.
That doesn’t make coaches soft or diminish a team’s ability to succeed. It’ll even protect the school from some serious allegations by transferring players—no matter if they hold grudges or simply want to play immediately at their next schools.
Short of relaxing transfer restrictions and allowing student-athletes to transfer freely as student-students do—blasphemy!—it’s the next-best result for players, coaches, schools and the NCAA.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.