Michaux: Who is looking out for best interests of student-athletes?

Robert Carter Jr. is transferring, but Georgia Tech will not allow him to go to Georgia because the Jackets play the Bulldogs. drives to the basket against Clemson during the first half of a second round NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday, March 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

One day soon when the NCAA’s restrictive policies of indentured servitude come crashing down upon it – and that day is soon coming – schools like Georgia Tech will be relieved of their collective pettiness.


In case you missed it on the inside pages and blog posts this week, Yellow Jackets basketball player Robert Carter Jr. has elected to leave Georgia Tech to play his last two years of collegiate eligibility somewhere else. One of the 15 places that will probably not be is 42 miles up the road from his Snellville, Ga., home at the University of Georgia.

That’s not Carter’s choice, of course. How silly would it be to allow a young American to have free will over his future? No, that’s Georgia Tech’s choice – and a petty, selfish one at that.

Greg McGarity, Georgia’s director of athletics, said the Bulldogs requested permission to speak with one of its former recruiting targets and was denied that opportunity by his Georgia Tech counterpart, Mike Bobinski. The Yellow Jackets are exercising their right under NCAA rules to limit the transfer options of departing players to exclude conference schools and Georgia – an annual in-state rival on the basketball schedule.

“Our practice has typically been to (not grant permission) to the ACC schools and anybody you play in a given sport every year,” Bobinski told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We play Georgia every year. This is not something which is so much a Georgia thing as it is we compete against them every year. That’s a pretty standard industry-wide practice.”

Bobinski is correct on that last count. This is standard operating procedure at many colleges, where the best interests of the players take a seat in the way, way back behind the school’s own self-interest. Heaven forbid a player like Carter – a 6-foot-8 power forward who averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season – shows up in a Bulldogs uniform once a year and helps beat his former team. Something like that might cost the Yellow Jackets an NCAA Tournament bid, assuming they can muster enough victories under Brian Gregory to be considered for the second time since 2007.

This standard industry practice is complete garbage.

It’s a practice, ironically, that Georgia is at the forefront of NOT taking part in. The Bulldogs are one of the rare institutions to actually live up to the notion of looking out “for the best interests of its student-athletes” and place no burden or restrictions on players in any sport who choose to leave and seek opportunity elsewhere.

“The student-athlete’s best interest is at the forefront of our program,” McGarity told the Journal-Constitution. “If they’re not happy here we’re not going to dictate where they can and can’t go.”

This is a mantra that has been repeated frequently by Georgia football coach Mark Richt, who has had to deal with high-profile former players suiting up against his Bulldogs.

Last season presented an epic showdown with former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger playing for Louisiana State and another classic moment when ex-Bulldog Nick Marshall threw a last-minute miracle against Georgia that helped propel Auburn to the BCS championship game.

Yet Richt continues to allow his players to go wherever they feel is best for them. Georgia didn’t keep gifted-but-troubled linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons from joining former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at Louisville. Last week, when starting cornerback Shaq Wiggins elected to transfer, Richt obliged without any reservations that Wiggins might come back to haunt the Bulldogs on an opposing SEC roster – or even Georgia Tech if it came to that.

“Shaq and I have been talking over the last few days and a fresh start is what he believes is in his best interest,” Richt said. “We respect his decision and certainly wish him nothing but the best.”

Too often coaches and programs don’t feel that way. Recently, Maryland and football coach Randy Edsall made embarrassing headlines when release restrictions on transfer quarterback Dave O’Brien not only prevented him from going to another ACC school or future scheduled opponents, it included Vanderbilt because former Terrapin assistant James Franklin was head coach there. How insecure is that?

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy was even more ridiculous with quarterback Wes Lunt, who was forbidden to accept a scholarship for any school in the Big 12, SEC or Pac-12 – you know, just in case they might meet in some bowl game.

It’s absurd and unfair.

Georgia Tech diminishes itself by restricting Carter or any other athlete from going anywhere they want, regardless of how it might affect the Jackets one day. It’s funny how the Yellow Jackets didn’t have any qualms bringing in former Georgia transfer Daniel Miller, a 6-11 center who was granted unrestricted release from Georgia after Dennis Felton was fired in 2009. Miller went on to score more than 1,000 points for the Yellow Jackets in four seasons, accumulating 30 points and 30 rebounds in three successive victories over the Bulldogs.

There’s a word parents use regarding the love they feel for their children – unconditional. It’s a feeling you hope might be reciprocated by the coaches and schools you entrust to their care.

Before players sign their rights away on that dotted line, they should be careful to note which programs and coaches actually will look out for their best interests unconditionally should circumstances not work out as originally planned.

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