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Savran: Fairness doesn't fit into equation

Saturday, April 05, 2003

No one said it was going to be fair. The departure of Ben Howland has raised much angst and anger among Pitt loyalists.

Also in play is the finely honed edge of Pittsburgh paranoia ... that Howland's escape somehow relegates the city and the program to second-class citizenship. But additionally, there are howls of protest over a stacked deck which affords coaches the status of unfettered free agency -- whether they have a contract or not, whether they have a buyout clause or not -- while their players are bound to their commitment and must go to the penalty box for a year if they choose to transfer.


No, but it never was.

If the NCAA wanted to make it fair, they would change the rules governing scholarships. Like making a four-year scholarship good for four years.

Do you realize that when a kid signs a letter of intent, he's only guaranteed a one-year scholarship?

The school can revoke the athlete's scholarship at the end of every school year. So if we're so concerned about being fair to the little kiddies, when they're offered a scholarship, which usually turns into five years of free education, let's guarantee it for that length of time, not just 12 months.

As a payback, if the player decides to turn pro before his eligibility expires, how about the athlete reimbursing the university for the years he has occupied space?

Or for the unused remaining years?

Presumably, assuming the athlete went to class, he has taken a classroom seat that might have been occupied by a real student. So let him hold off on that Hummer or Escalade, and pay the school the equivalent of the used or unused tuition.

The thought of allowing the players the same latitude as the coaches who abandon them might satisfy our sense of fairness, but it would also create a deepening and further poisoning of the cesspool that is college athletics.

Think of what goes on in the recruitment of a high school All-American. Now think of the potential illegal recruiting once he's a proven All-American against top college competition.

What went into convincing Carmelo Anthony to Syracuse? Now let's assume Jim Boeheim leaves after this season. If a transfer-with-no-waiting-period rule were in effect, what would the bidding be like for a proven star such as Anthony?

Left to their own devices, coaches, and especially boosters, would turn the slime that already stains the recruiting process into a sleazy sludge. It might be more fair to the player, but it's also totally unmanageable.

Short of selecting the school of business over the school of basketball, the best way to protect these players is to make it more difficult for coaches to abrogate their contracts. In 2002, then-athletic director Steve Pederson extended Howland's contract through 2009. Why? He already had him signed through 2005.

Why sign him to a seven year extension? To keep him here until then?

That worked out well.

And why include a buyout clause?

Ironically, because of Howland's efforts, Pitt's program was at such a level that they didn't have to, nor should they again, agree to any such clause. If they didn't include it in that renegotiation, what would Howland have done? He had an existing contract which ran through 2005.

"Hey coach. We're giving you a substantial raise, one that could put you over the million-dollar mark. We're offering you security for the next seven years. The quid pro quo will be no buyout. Take it or leave it. If you leave it, we remind you that you have a binding contract for the next three years."

Maybe Pederson had one eye on Nebraska at the time and didn't want to be a hypocrite.

My top choice for a replacement would be Marquette's Tom Crean. Not only because he's one of four coaches spending an active weekend in New Orleans, but also because he plays the same style of basketball that Howland taught.

Pitt actively recruited four of his players, indicating their philosophies are similar, which means less of a break in continuity.

John Calipari is an excellent choice, although there's the nagging issue of some dark clouds hovering at Massachusetts during his tenure there.

Be that as it may, whoever succeeds Howland, a buyout clause should be nixed by Pitt immediately.

It should be a deal breaker.

They now have the power. A competitive program, a great facility, a great opportunity for any coach. Not to mention Pitt is paying a salary commensurate with other top programs in the NCAA. For all that, in return, if you sign a five-year deal, you coach for five years.

Unrealistic? Probably.

But it seems to me it's also eminently fair.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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