Yesterday, the NCAA dropped the hammer on Penn State. As part of the deal, they are allowing current Penn State players to transfer without penalty. In other words, every single player on that roster is a free agent. And a handful of them are possible game-changers for another program.
And so, the feeding frenzy has begun. RB Silas Reed, the crown jewel of this surreal free agency period, is being courted like crazy. According to Joe Schad, his phone, his parent's phone and his high school coach's phone were ringing off the hook following the news. UConn and Georgia are going after LB KHairi Fortt, while Cal and Baylor are interested as well. Even UMass is getting in on the action.
The natural reaction seems to be to say this is all horrible. That these coaches are vultures picking at the dead meat of Penn State (Nevermind that many of these players actually do want to leave. According to Bruce Feldman, one head coach has been contacted by five different Penn State players about joining their program).
Shame on these coaches for ravaging Penn State, in the wake of this scandal no less!
DISLOYAL! SCUMBAGS! DISINGENUOUS! LIARS!
However, when I asked people to take a step back and pretend that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were people opting to leave one company for another, all of a sudden the reaction changed. Well, one supposes, in that case, with those parameters, you would expect two employees dissatisfied with their jobs and the direction of the company to leave for a more lucrative offer with a rival company.
And that's everything you need to know about this "culture of college football" discussion going on. We pretend that college football, and sports in general, are separate from the rest of the world. That the ideals behind a football team are different to the ideals of, say, an accounting firm.
They're not. Culture is not different on a football field than it is in an office. Culture is culture.
And in our culture, this is how business gets done.
I hear a lot of crying about "Obama's socialist agenda" and the unfairness of the working world these days. Let me tell you, if you're one of those people complaining about that stuff, I better not hear a peep out of you about the way college coaches are going after Penn State players.
It's capitalism at its very essence. Do whatever it takes to win. Survive or die. Do whatever you can do to make sure your rivals suffer and fail.
That's how America works (or so it seems). So don't start fainting now just because some college coaches want to save their own asses by grabbing players from a talent pool that is experienced, capable and ready to prove something.
Here's the thing about being a coach. Unless you're the guy who won the championship last year, or you're Joe Paterno up until about eight months ago, your ass in on the line. Always. You're always a couple losses away from the hot seat and a couple more away from getting fired.
At least you have the luxury of making mistakes within your company walls. Every mistake they make is public and magnified 1000x over.
So when people like that get the chance at a fair, legal competitive advantage, they're going to take it. And they should.
Again, let's put it in real world terms. You're a manager at a company. Your rival just announced they're going out of business due to a scandal involving the CEO. At that moment, all of their employees are free agents, looking for work. Are you going to sit tight and wait for them to call you over your other nine competitors? Or are you going to start cold calling every person in that office you've ever wished was working for you and helping you secure your status and job?
If you don't, another rival will come along, poach those employees, take their client lists and run you out of business.
I didn't say it sounds nice. I'm just saying that's how it works.
Here's a quote from an unnamed FBS defensive coordinator who might as well be Syracuse's Scott Shafer even if it isn't:
"For a lot of schools around the country, especially those of us on the East Coast, we're in on Level 5," said one FBS defensive coordinator. "They have some really good players on defense and a bunch of decent players, and guys we would've loved to have gotten in recruiting. Can we get 'em now? We'll see. Their third-team guys are probably better than our second-teamers and probably a few of our starters too."
You have the chance to improve your team immediately. Seven teams on your schedule this season are already calling. There's a good chance that if you don't make that call, these guys will be lining up against you. Your job is already shaky because you lost seven games last season and while no one is calling for your head yet, they might if you lose seven more times.
You make that call. And that's not because of college football culture. That's just because of culture.