No loyalty in college ball? There shouldn’t be

01.15.10 8 years ago 23 Comments

Josh Smith at adidas Nations

There’s always a contradiction, isn’t there?

One reason I love sports is that it provides options and possibilities for kids who may not realize how many options they have. And at the same time, I hate that sports has helped create a climate where those same kids often feel they only have three options: entertainment, sports, or crime. Likewise, I love hip-hop for the artistic expression, but hate that so many artists will take that artistic license and never think to do anything positive with it beyond putting their boys on.

And while I love college ball in part for the undying passion fans have for their team, I hate when that passion goes overboard and causes fans to act like assholes.

Terrence Ross is a highly sought-after basketball recruit at Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.), Kevin Durant‘s alma mater. Ross had previously been committed to Maryland, but the senior wing has since de-committed and is now allowing Kansas, Kentucky and Duke into the picture. And in all honestly, it looks like the Terrapins are going to lose this one.

“They were rough on me,” Ross said in an interview with HighSchoolHoop.com’s Jason Jordan earlier this week, asked about the response he’s gotten from Maryland fans. “I had to close my Facebook page. They were just posting crazy stalker-ish type stuff. It was crazy! They were UP-SET!”

The ensuing comments on that HSH interview showed a little of what Terrence is dealing with. “I have such a low opinion of this kid,” one reader wrote. “He’s from ROCKVILLE MARYLAND right outside college park and he was all about the hometown terps when they were the only ones on him … But now that he’s blowing up he forgets that maryland wanted him before all these other schools even knew who he was. I dont blame terp fans for being upset at all but this kid sounds soft.”

Another reader called Terrence a “fake, bad person.” And if you check the Maryland message boards, it gets even worse.

Up here in Washington, there’s a similar situation surrounding Josh Smith (Kentwood H.S.), a 6-10, 270-pound beast who is one to the top players in the Class of 2010 and the best player in this state. Smith signed with UCLA over Washington in the fall, drawing a predictably negative reaction from UW fans who wanted him to choose the hometown school. When Josh hurt his knee in one of Kentwood’s first games of the season, this comment from the Seattle Times website was an accurate reflection of what he’d been hearing: “The more I see Josh Smith lose the happier I will be after not picking UW over UCLA … That was sickening to see … These local kids need to be proud of there hometown schools and stay put. It’s not like the UW doesn’t produce NBA talent, plus we are the leaders of the PAC-10.”

And if college fans will treat kids this way, you can imagine how they’ll go after a grown man who makes six or seven figures on the university’s payroll.

This week, the hiring/firing season in college football hit a crescendo when Pete Carroll left USC for the NFL, then Lane Kiffin left Tennessee (after one season) to replace Carroll at USC. Fan reaction topped even the venom spit at ex-Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly when he left for Notre Dame a few weeks ago, and in the case of Kiffin, the national media also brought out its trident. On an episode of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” host Bob Ley asked a panel of analysts — every one of them highly critical of Kiffin — if USC’s new boss was the worst example of “the crass appearance of coaches hopping job-to-job.”

Why is Terrence Ross being e-stalked throughout the greater DMV area, while Lane Kiffin is being burned in effigy in Knoxville? Because at some point, we decided that loyalty should actually matter in college sports. And we were way off.

When a “normal” kid is making a college decision, how often are they pressured to stay in-state? In fact, it usually goes the other way, as we encourage kids to get out and see the world and get away from home; which is exactly what Josh Smith did. And if a normal kid had made up his mind to attend In-State U, but then realized there may be better options elsewhere, as a parent or an adviser you would absolutely recommend he at least check it out; which is exactly what Terrence Ross is doing.

With coaches who change jobs, again, you have to put yourself in their position. Yes, a coach will preach loyalty to his players and his administration while he’s building a program, but we all know how it works: When the time comes, those players will go pro early as soon as they get a whiff of interest from the League, while that AD will fire a coach as soon as he gets enough pressure from the boosters.

Because as much as college sports is about passion, it’s also about opportunism. Schools take any opportunity to upgrade their profit margin. AD’s take any opportunity to upgrade their program. Coaches take any opportunity to upgrade their livelihood and status. And players take any opportunity to upgrade their game, their profile, and their chances at being a pro.

Loyalty doesn’t fit into the picture. And as long as we can recognize and accept that, it’s OK. You can’t set up a system where loyalty only exists out of convenience, then expect everybody to abide by it.

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