Texas A&M had a no good, very bad night on Wednesday when five-star quarterback recruit Tate Martell decommitted from the Aggies. That's a bummer for A&M fans, especially after former five-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both left the team this offseason, but it's neither uncommon nor unreasonable for recruits to change their minds.
Only then, Aggies wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead decided to Tweet:
Moorehead also Tweeted (and deleted) the favorite old sports man opinion that "there is no accountability and no sense of positivity when it comes to adversity" for kids these days—unlike previous generations of teenagers, who always greeted bad news with a happy smile and never, ever failed to take responsibility for anything.
Speaking of being held accountable for one's actions, Moorehead's Tweetstorm caused a four-star wide receiver to decommit, and it caused other recruits to stop considering A&M.
Moorehead was dumb to present his opinion the way he did. No question. But the real problem here is that his worldview is shared by many of the adults in college sports—it's essentially what they think about high school and college kids.
Just this week, CBS's Jon Rothstein wrote about college basketball's supposed "transfer epidemic," stating that "fighting through adversity and building calluses through life experience is something that's a thing of the past and that's reiterated by the way players change programs at the grassroots level prior to ever stepping foot on a college campus." Rothstein also blamed this alleged rending of our national collegiate athletic moral fabric on—you guessed it—social media, claiming that "college athletes have an ego and part of the reason why they're so prone to make a change in where they're playing college basketball is due to the enjoyment they receive when their name is constantly posted across a social media platform."
Why do college athletes switch schools? FOR THE TWEETS.
Similarly, former Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg said players are being "enabled":
All of this is hypocritical. Rothstein worked at ESPN Radio and MSG before jumping to CBS. (Oh, and his entire profession depends on capturing reader attention, largely via social media). Moorehead has had four different coaching jobs in seven years. Greenberg coached at seven different schools as he worked his way up the ranks. Couldn't even fight through their own adversity and stay loyal! Sad!
You would think that in a capitalism-obsessed country like America, coaches would encourage athletes to do what's best for them. But college sports is secretly a socialist utopia overseen by an authoritarian regime, the old Soviet Union without the ICBMs and Rocky IV.
Within the context of how we've been trained to think about college sports—that everything athletes do should be subordinate to the school's wishes—it makes sense to think athletes changing their mind about where they'd like to learn and work is some sort of worrying epidemic. After all, it's not always helpful to the schools, which we're supposed to support.
But Martell did nothing we would consider morally wrong in any other circumstance. He chose a favorite college before he was a junior in high school and now decided he might have a new favorite college. Millions of kids probably do the same thing every year—it has nothing to do with being part of a soft generation, it's just people doing what's best for them.
Same thing with transfers. Sometimes, people realize that they would enjoy their college experience more elsewhere, so they—wait for it—go elsewhere. Like many people, I considered transferring during my sophomore year of college but opted to stay instead, not because I chose to fight adversity and acquire some useful calluses, but because I decided that staying put would ultimately make me happiest. Many friends of mine did transfer during college, and they became happier and got better opportunities because of it. This is bad?
The real reason coaches get so upset about transfers, and about decommitments, is that it's the sole area of the college sports system where athletes have the upper hand. Until they sign their letters-of-intent, highly-touted recruits hold college coaches at their mercy. They have the power. When those same athletes get to campus, everything flips. And still, coaches bemoan the one time they can't act as dictators. But sure, the athletes are the entitled ones.
Consider Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's response to Wednesday night's saga:
In no world outside of college sports is social media use considered a privilege—well, maybe prison and/or the military, but those are very bad comps—yet that's the type of control Sumlin and other coaches are used to having. A type of control they take for granted! So when they suddenly can't act like little kings—that is, when a recruit or player decides he's changed his mind—they grasp for fantastical reasons to explain why this unfathomable insubordination happened.
And so we get the adversity narrative. And the generational softness. And the blah blah blah blah cue the teacher's voice from the Peanuts cartoons.
Truth is, Martell hasn't shown that he can't handle adversity. He simply wanted to go to a different school and work for different bosses—just as Moorehead did when he left Virginia Tech for Texas A&M in 2014.
The Aggies deserved their awful night after Moorehead's ignorant rant, but the problem is bigger than this one ill-advised outburst. If schools lose their authoritarian privileges, maybe we'll begin to see decommitments and transfers for what they are: people taking personal responsibility for bettering their individual situations, just like the rest of us.