Grateful farewells and perturbed asides go down together like bourbon and butane, but that was the cocktail of choice on Vernon Adams’ getaway day.
Eastern Washington’s quicksilver quarterback turned foregone conclusion into reality Monday, tweeting out his pledge to transfer to the University of Oregon for his last season of college football and first semester of grad school.
Team Eagle put on its happiest face for its (former) guy, though you’ve never heard grins gnash like this.
Or gallows humor so mordant.
“I’ll be honest, (this) can be a little frustrating,” said EWU football coach Beau Baldwin. “I don’t see myself finding my next quarterback at Linfield.”
Let’s pencil in Beau as the headliner for Comedy Central’s “Roast of the Ducks” whenever it airs.
Because Adams is who he is – engaging, forthright, joyful – it’s impossible not to hope this big gamble pays off for him. Well, maybe not impossible for everyone. This is the University of Nike he’s throwing in with – fashion disasters, checkbook football and all that. And you’ll hardly be jazzed if your team’s on the schedule next fall.
Like Eastern. That’s Sept. 5 on your calendars, folks.
Little did EWU athletic director Bill Chaves know when he signed the $450,000 contract to play the Ducks that the deal would include a player to be named later.
And any guess what Monday’s news did to the point spread?
Of course, that’s still six months away. Adams still must learn the playbook, beat out his new competition and stay in one piece before he can start for the Ducks.
And, yes, graduate from Eastern.
“He’s not sitting here right now with a degree in hand,” Baldwin cautioned – his timbre suggesting some serious bookage remains.
But as he acknowledged the dice roll that this is for Adams – that he could wind up as a high-profile insurance policy – Baldwin understands the rationale.
“He’s going to bet on himself,” the coach said. “That’s what makes him great.”
That he won’t be great for the Eags anymore wasn’t going down easily at EWU, even if they’ve been steeling themselves for the announcement for a couple of weeks. This wasn’t directed at Adams but at the rule that allowed his leave-taking – and his destination school, the tone and message there amounting to, “Really?”
“This is a guy we recruited, we developed,” Baldwin said, “and during that three or four years, Oregon doesn’t feel they recruited or developed a guy to the same level we did here in Cheney, Wash.”
The so-called graduate transfer rule is nearly a decade old now – passed by the NCAA membership, as Chaves noted, to accommodate a graduate with eligibility remaining who wanted to pursue an advanced degree not offered by his original school and still play his last year. Adams’ case is a signal flare because he’s in line to replace the Heisman Trophy winner, but such transfers have been an epidemic in hoops for a while.
“Much like a tax loophole,” said Chaves, “we’ve probably gone into a world that we didn’t intend.”
In fact, it’s been disparaged by some coaches and administrators as “free agency.”
And the last thing you want to give college athletes is freedom. No telling what that can lead to.
Yes, it’s a bummer that a school can invest three or four years in the development of a player only to see another school cash in the last season. It’s also a bummer when newly hired coaches tell seniors they won’t get the fifth year promised them by the previous guy, or an A.D. won’t release a recruit from a letter-of-intent after axing the coach who signed that player.
Is the graduate degree business a charade? Sometimes. As Baldwin pointed out, “Realistically, what’s Vernon going to do? He’s going to Oregon for three months. I don’t think he’s walking away with a masters. Am I right?”
But he’s also fulfilled his obligations to Eastern, from both an educational and effort standpoint.
When running back Taiwan Jones left Eastern with a year to play and declared for the NFL draft, there was no hand-wringing about a rule’s twisted intent. Had Adams gone that route, concerns would have been voiced about his readiness, but nothing else.
So it’s OK if the Oakland Raiders get a player, but not the Oregon Ducks.
And now we’re back to the root of most NCAA law: schools can’t trust one another. No one wants to be somebody else’s farm club. So Chaves and others want the rule revisited, and another opportunity for an athlete to do what he thinks is best for himself gets closed, or modified into minimal use.
Meanwhile, Baldwin can still see the football as fully inflated.
“It means our program is at a different level than what it once was,” he said, “and we’re proud of that.”
Sometimes it’s best to accept a compliment and move on.
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