Late last night, the NCAA may have set a dangerous precedent. In what has been a big story on the national recruiting scene for the past several months, the NCAA finally issued a ruling on incoming freshman defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes — he is eligible to play immediately in 2013 for the UCLA Bruins.
Now, here’s a little background on the situation if you aren’t familiar. Vanderdoes is a 5-star defensive lineman from Placer, California, and was one of the most coveted prospects in the 2013 cycle. Vanderdoes originally committed to USC, but then decommitted to join the Fighting Irish. On National Signing Day, he signed his National Letter of Intent to play at Notre Dame.
Not too long after that, he decided that Notre Dame wasn’t the place for him, and he wanted out. Vanderdoes was interested in staying closer to home, and figured UCLA would be a better option for him. The problem? He wasn’t free to go, because of the letter of intent he had signed. Notre Dame insisted that since Vanderdoes had signed to play there, he either had to come fulfill that obligation, or transfer under a normal process, which would require him to sit out the 2013 football season if he wished to attend in another school.
In other words, Notre Dame wanted Vanderdoes to play by the rules set down by the NCAA, and would not freely release him from his letter of intent.
Here’s a refresher on the NLI, courtesy of the NCAA:
The National Letter of Intent was created to protect both schools and student-athletes. When a student signs that letter, he/she must attend that institution — the school is guaranteeing them an athletics scholarship, one that the school must honor, and in return the student must attend the university and participate in whichever sport he/she is receiving said scholarship for — it’s a great deal for both parties. It’s also the final, formalizing step in which a commitment is irrevocable — the legal contract that says “if I change my mind in the future, I will have to accept the consequences.”
Again, the NCAA ruled yesterday that Vanderdoes would not have to live up to the end of the bargain that he signed — he is eligible to play for UCLA immediately. The reason that the NCAA approved? Vanderdoes was looking to remain closer to home near his ailing grandmother.
Now let me say, I have absolutely no problem at all with Vanderdoes making the switch to a school to stay close to his family — that is a very understandable move. However, if he wants to make that move, he should have to face the repercussions of abandoning Notre Dame. Did he not know how far South Bend was from Placer, California when he signed the National Letter of Intent? Come on now.
Furthermore, the NCAA agreed with a reasoning that doesn’t make logistical sense. Los Angeles is roughly 450 miles from Placer, California, Eddie’s hometown. Yes, UCLA is closer to home for Vanderdoes than South Bend, but it’s not likely that the school switch is going to allow Eddie to visit his family regularly anyway, at least not if he’s participating in all of the team’s workouts and practices.
Bottom line, this story feels like Vanderdoes just changed his mind again (remember, he first committed to USC), and is using a mildly exaggerated excuse to not have the face consequences for his actions. It’s just sad that the NCAA is allowing him to get away with it. Again, I have no problem at all with him opting to go to UCLA, but he should have to sit out a year, plain and simple.
If players don’t have to honor their National Letters Of Intent, it would essentially mean that teams could recruit right up until the start of fall practices, which would be terrible, causing tremendous headaches for coaches. Do I think that because of this ruling, that will happen? No, I don’t. But I do think that you could see more recruits across the country try a last-minute switch each year, if they think they’d have a shot to play immediately.
Ultimately, the NCAA decided not to uphold the rules that it created, and Vanderdoes is free to play. The real loser here is Notre Dame, which handled everything the right way, and got burned. What message does that send?