Texas A&M Football Allegations Have Far-Reaching Consequence

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Future generations will remember Aug. 21, 2018 as one of the heaviest news days in American history — and the oftentimes frivolous realm of college football did not escape.

USA Today slipped a lengthy investigative feature on Texas A&M football into the day’s chaos. The eight guilty verdicts rendered against the president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and the guilty plea entered by the president’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, should have profound impact on the makeup of Washington D.C.

Likewise, the implications of Dan Wolken’s story on linebacker Santino Marchiol, who transferred from Texas A&M to Arizona this summer, could reverberate through college football in such a way as to usher wholesale changes to the sport.

The entire article is worth your time, but it concludes with a statement from Marchiol’s attorney, Thomas Mars, that touches on a general point that transcends Marchiol’s pursuit of immediately eligibility at Arizona.

Though Marchiol said he understands that speaking out about his last few months at Texas A&M will make him a target for criticism from those who believe he simply couldn’t cut it under Fisher, his attorney was adamant that laying all his cards on the table was the best path to overcoming the obstacles built into the system.

“When the stakes are this high, nobody should expect the student-athlete’s advocate to be pulling punches,” Mars said. “After all, what choice do you have when the transfer rules invite the disclosure of misconduct at the student-athlete’s former school as grounds for a waiver?”

Now, the real fallout as it pertains to Texas A&M and Marchiol’s specific allegations would arrive well after Aug. 21, if there’s any fallout at all. USA Today reports allegations that surely send the court of public opinion into a tizzy — but not in any actual courtroom or governing body, like the day’s higher profile verdicts and plea agreements.

As Mars suggests, some observers will instantly dismiss Marchiol’s allegations of mistreatment from coaches and violation of NCAA rules as sour grapes. Others will side with the linebacker either out of general frustration with the NCAA, or their own inherent biases against Texas A&M. The rampant tribalism that poisons American politics in 2018 is well-entrenched into the culture of college football.

But in a grander context beyond just Texas A&M and Marchiol, the article furthers the necessary discussion of archaic transfer rules that have plagued college sports. Coaches restricting transfers’ options factors into the larger debate of amateurism, particularly as coaches cycle through programs in increasingly short intervals.

Marchiol did not sign on at Texas A&M to play for Jimbo Fisher; he did, however, commit to playing for Kevin Sumlin. Likewise, A.J. Turman — blocked from transferring to Miami, where fired Georgia coach Mark Richt landed — did not commit to Kirby Smart. And these are just two examples in the atmosphere college football’s fostered, wherein coaches with winning records can be fired for not winning enough. Enough is arbitrary, but ultimately tied to the exponential growth in coaching salaries.

Public pressure has forced some movement from the NCAA, albeit at a glacial pace for current student-athletes. Symbolism exists with regard to college football’s hesitance to evolve in this story emanating from Texas A&M: An element of “Bear” Bryant’s quasi-chastised but quasi-still-celebrated “Junction Boys”  lingers in the allegations of abuse at “voluntary” workouts. 

The NCAA’s application of eligibility waivers for transfers, citing various hardships, is a half-step in the right direction. The NCAA deals largely in half-steps toward the positive, but the governing body has woven in a major detail. 

It’s that language cited above — “Nobody should expect the student-athlete’s advocate to be pulling punches…what choice do you have when the transfer rules invite the disclosure of misconduct at the student-athlete’s former school as grounds for a waiver” — that should have every coach at every program reexamining how he operates.

The NCAA has, perhaps unwittingly, provided an effective tool for change directly to the student-athletes. That’s not to suggest athletes abuse the system, thus validating the aforementioned “sour grapes” plenty of outside observers level against transferring players.

In instances of genuine malfeasance, however, college football programs face legitimate consequences.