Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Quitters

Blue-Gray Sky has posted a nice summary and discussion of the transfers out of the Notre Dame football program under Coach Charlie Weis. I posted a comment over there, but I wanted to throw it up here (with a little development) since it ended up being fairly long and it is something I have been thinking about for a while.

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I think as the talent rises and you get more guys in the program who think they have NFL talent, you're going to see transfers when those guys who think they can play in the NFL get buried on the depth chart. Years ago, very few guys playing college football really thought they had NFL ability, and even those with next-level ability didn't fixate on it because playing in the NFL wasn't the equivalent of hitting the lottery like it is today. Too many kids today think they can play in "the league" and think that millions of dollars await them if only they can get on the field in college and showcase their skills. It doesn't occur to them that if they aren't good enough to rise to the top of the depth chart and dominate in college at a major program, they probably aren't going to be playing on Sundays. Far be it from me to tell a kid he can't chase his dream. But I find it very interesting to see the schools the guys are transferring to. Not exactly perennial BCS powers.

From a pure football standpoint, while it will impact short-term depth, the transfer of a guy who isn't going to play much actually helps the team. You get a scholarship back from a kid who isn't going to have an impact on the field, and get a "Mulligan" to give that scholarship to another kid who may become a star. This will actually help the overall talent level of the team rise even faster.

The mid-season transfers really puzzle me though. I can totally understand the Spring or Summer transfer. But transferring in mid-season is really selfish and it hurts your team and your teammates. It is quitting. That's harsh, but I don't know what else to call it. I can't help but wonder what these guys are thinking. While they are starting they expect the guys behind them on the depth chart to keep plugging away. They expect the scout team guys to work hard to make the starters better. But as soon as they fall to #2 behind a teammate who has been at their side in the weight room, who has been there for the puking wind sprints in the early morning, who has sweated and bled with them on the practice field in the heat and the cold, they quit. If I'm not the starter, I'm outta here! This seems very selfish and primadonna to me. That does not show good character. It also shows that perhaps team chemistry is not where it should be.

It could be that each of these kids has a complex set of other reasons for leaving. They might be struggling in class. They have a lousy roommate. Their Mom is sick. They miss their girlfriend back home who has taken up with a basketball player. And losing with the whole country watching magnifies everything. For many of these kids this 1-6 start is probably the worst adversity any of them have ever faced. They have been star athletes on winning teams since they were 4 years old. To be on the bench and losing is a totally new experience, and some of them aren't coping very well.

I don't think the transfer issue will ever completely disappear, but I think it will dwindle significantly once the winning resumes. And when the winning resumes, the team will be better off without selfish players, without players who cannot fight through adversity, without guys who quit on their teammates in the middle of a tough season.

7 comments:

John said...

OCDomer, not to jump all over you here, but while I agree with much of what you say, it seems to me that calling these kids "quitters" is a bit harsh. I've transferred schools twice - one as a highschooler, once as a grad. student - for my own reasons, and once during the middle of the school year, and there were teams I was a member of in high school - soccer and also debate, I guess (yeah, what a dork) - that I in some sense "quit" when I transferred.

Up and leaving a sports team in the middle of game preparation (and unannounced, in Jones's case) is a move definitely worthy of criticism, but when Carufel leaves ND because he doesn't feel like he fits in or has enough friends, or Stewart (almost) leaves because of homesickness, or Reuland leaves because he's frustrated with his role on the team and is thousands of miles away from home, we shouldn't call them "quitters" for that.

Might the team be better off for having shed players who apparently didn't want to be there? Quite possibly. Were the ways these transfers were timed and executed beyond reproach? Definitely not. But being a teenager, a college underclassman, and an athlete buried on the depth chart for the first time in your life, is a pretty difficult position to be in.

OC Domer said...

John,

If a guy is "buried" on the depth chart and has been for a long time and finally gets fed up, that's one case. Reuland and Stewart come closest to that case. But if a guy was fine last week when he was a starter, and all of a sudden is too unhappy to bear it when they are the back-up this week, I don't know what else to call it. If you're on the two-deep your team is counting on you. You're occupying a limited number of scholarship slots. You're getting important reps in practice. What is gained by quitting in week 8?

Stick it out for another month or so (5 games), finish the semester, then transfer.

Stewart came back, of course, which tells me a lot about his character and his family. But the guys I salute are the seniors who stuck it out and worked hard for four years to finally get on the field, guys like Brockington, Jabbie and Vernaglia.

Transferring schools when you're "just" a student is not really analogous - assuming you are paying to attend the school. It's your money. But if you're starting goalie on the soccer team and leave in the middle of the season, that hurts your teammates. If the school is paying YOU to attend (full scholarship), I think it changes things a bit. You may have good reasons for "quitting", but you've quit.

I agree it's harsh, and I don't throw around the word "quit" lightly. But I don't know how else to characterize it.

John said...

What you say is reasonable, but remember that as the BGS post made clear, Carufel didn't quit just because he got passed up, but also because he was unhappy all around. (This was my point in drawing the analogy with the cases where I transferred; that I "quit" teams in the process was an unfortunate side effect.) Also remember that in his case, waiting until the end of the season to transfer could have ended up hurting his chances to succeed at whatever his new program turns out to be (not to mention prolonging his unhappiness).

Again: I'm not saying that what Carufel and the rest (especially Jones) did was entirely okay. Nor, for that matter, am I saying it's wrong to say that they "quit." But that alone doesn't make them "quitters" any more than the fact that I occasionally play basketball makes me a basketball player. (Sorry for the semantic nuance.)

In any case, this is definitely a helpful discussion to have. I just think that especially in a public forum like this, it's important to try really hard to be respectful towards, and understanding of, these kids' very complicated situations.

Anonymous said...

QUITTERS is positively the right word. As a former scholarship player on a losing team all you have are your teammates. I cannot understand anyone who bails on them. Being determined to get things turned around and to finiash what you started--that I understand. I agree--good riddance.

Anonymous said...

If a scholarship athlete quits during a semester, do they have to refund the university? Because Carufel or any of the other guys who left received a scholarship, that means some walkon who is busting his hump is getting squat. The university put out money for these guys and they didn't fulfill their obligations. That's money that could have gone to other players.

PLAC2D said...

OC Domer,

I live in LA and have bben reading your blogs for awhile now. This is probably the most I've ever writen. (More on me later.)
I have several concerns:
First, your first arguments about the quitters is substantial but does it relate to ND currently? I mean did Willingham leave enough in the tank to have competition on the current roster? On certain positions? Does this argument end next year when CW has already fourth year of recruits underneath his belt (pardon the pun)?

Second,you have to be pretty desperate to leave a program, correct, in the middle of the season due to the lose of the current year and the next year of eligibilty. They are going to non BCS schools because of the quick fix, no challenge ahead of them there!

Third, team chemistry is huge. I'm an elective teacher. My classes are built on chemistry (not literally) and without it, you're dead. This has to do directly with the coaches, yes CW!

Last, selfishness. I read CW's book and he talks about kids for recruiting he definitely wants, really wants and those he definitley does not. I believe he is judging their chracacter. He doesn't have a crystal ball, but a kid has to be pretty damn impressive to receive a scholarship to ND and I'm encouraged by the fact the graduation rate is high. I'm not a believer in lowering standards, but it does come down to challenging and competing. There is no sugar-coating that in the real world. That's what awaits them all.

I'm sure glad ESharp had enough character to stick out the years behind Quinn and a couple of starts behind Claussen. Solid kid!

sir john said...

I have to go with quitters. I stayed with my HS when we moved. I had a 2 hour commute each morning and evening. when my HS rival was 3 blocks away and my parents pressured me to go there but I refused. (I couldn't switch loyalty and take an easy route out..understand?)

As far as making friends go's. Jeese out of 750 in HS I would say only 5 were my close buds and we are still friends today an all of us it didn't break our heart we were not the voted most popular.