I admit, this does anger me. In my earlier article about Florida coach Billy Donovan's acceptance of Austin Rivers' commitment to the Gators in apparent disdain of the recent NABC strong discouragement of such a practice, I asked if we would hear Donovan similarly criticized, or silence. That question has been emphatically answered, at least as of 3 days into the affair. Not one article has appeared as of this writing anywhere that is the least bit critical of Donovan. But articles have appeared apparently casting Donovan as a victim of Gillispie's actions.
I wish to direct your attention to that bane of all Wildcat fans, the Original Sin of the Lexington Herald-Leader himself, Jerry Tipton (please note tongue firmly in cheek). It seems that Jerry got a few emails along the lines of my earlier missive linked above:
“So Clyde (Gillispie) stated he would no longer accept commitments unless they are in their junior year, yet BD (Florida Coach Billy Donovan) accepts this commitment,” wrote one fan in an e-mail. “That's not playing on a level field, in my opinion. BD, in other words, tells the NABC to stick it. I hope you mention this in your blog. I will be disappointed if you do not. Not Right.”
It does seem passing strange that after all the hubbub surrounding Avery's commitment to Kentucky and the subsequent media circus surrounding the NABC "strong discouragement" of accepting commitments prior to June 15th following their sophomore year that we have not one story containing even a mild reproof of Donovan for his acceptance of a commitment from a 15 year-old, much less the kind of blanket, finger-wagging disapproval Billy Gillispie was subjected to on an almost daily basis over the last 60 days for doing exactly the same. Maybe they are just waiting 'till Monday. Yeah, that's it.
Tipton goes on to paraphrase some of Donovan's defenders:
Those who defend Donovan note that not all recruiting scenarios are the same. The Florida coach has a longstanding relationship with Rivers and his family.
Well. That makes it OK, then. I mean, if you have a relationship with the recruit's father, the "rules" don't apply to you. But let me take that a little further. Donovan's relationship with the Rivers' provides him a recruiting advantage over everyone. You see, unlike Gillispie who had to wait until Avery's father called him, Donovan could call on Doc and Austin anytime because of an existing relationship with the family. So that makes it all OK for Billy D -- pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Move along.
But that isn't quite enough for the Florida media. They would have us to believe that Donovan is just responding to the threat of the Evil Billy Gillispie, he simply had to do this or be left behind:
Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan just secured an oral commitment from 15-year-old Winter Park guard Austin Rivers, the youngest commitment in his 12 seasons at UF. Austin is the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. This is either a case of Donovan outworking other programs or an effort to keep up with Kentucky's Billy Gillispie and his Junior High Kids 'R Us recruiting strategy. ...
Oh, yeah, man. Absolutely right. We can't have Kentucky getting away with something Florida can't. The fact that Donovan has already obtained verbal commitments previously from three players younger than the NABC recommended limit, including current player Nick Calathes, doesn't matter at all. In fact, the only thing that matters is Gillispie is wrong, and Donovan is ... perfect. Clean cut, never a hint of impropriety. This just had to be on the up-and-up, you gotta look at all the facts of the case, and the fact is Donovan is good and Gillispie is bad. That's all you need to know.
For all you Florida fans that think I'm ragging on Billy D, I'm not. I agree with him, and frankly think that what he did was just fine, all four times. I think the NABC is full of it on this issue, and the NCAA as well. You want to establish a limit? Fine, place accepting scholarship offers off limits prior to a kid's 15th birthday. But 15 is plenty old enough to make a decision about college, especially with the large amount of family involvement at that point in a young person's life. I was making decisions at 15 that make a college choice pale into insignificance, and I have news for you -- most other 15 year-olds today are as well. Stop with this whole "sophomore year" deal. When we offer the franchise to vote in elections to everyone at 18 years of age or the right to imbibe alcohol at 21, we don't include a caveat about what grade level they have achieved in high school.
But what about the "academic profile" of younger players that garners all the hand-wringing from Miles Brand, the NABC et. al.? Let's take the case of young Mr. Avery, the commitment that started this firestorm:
Avery has been astute enough to turn his intensity on his studies, too. He graduated from eighth grade with a grade-point average of 3.54.
"I realize that if I don't do well in the classroom, I don't play basketball," he said.
Imagine that. The kid has a B+ average, and realizes that if he doesn't keep it up, he won't play ball. No way a kid with a mature attitude like that is old enough to decide about college, right NCAA? NABC? And of course, those worthies just know Gillispie didn't take Avery's strong academic record into consideration when he offered his father the scholarship. No way, we all know Gillispie is evil.
Contrast that to many players who wait and make their decision in accordance with the preferences of the NABC, NCAA and others who wind up in prep school or junior college. Perhaps if they had committed earlier in their careers, they would not have found keeping up their grades to be of secondary importance, and would have had the additional mentoring of their college coach-to-be to help motivate them.
Do I really want the media to rag out Donovan? Nope. What I want is for the media, the NABC and the NCAA to stop their silly, gut-reaction posturing and actually rub those brain cells that they allegedly have together for a moment. Do we need another stupid rule from the NCAA that makes sense only to a public relations manager, or do we need them to really consider when it is too early for a commitment to a college? We don't criticize academic prodigies who wind up selecting and entering college at a young age -- we laud them. It's time to stop creating double standards due to cognitive dissonance and stubborn desire to "look good" to the public. How about leading, for a change, instead of continuing to contribute to the parochial mentality that dominates academia and the step-child attitude academics have toward athletics?