Submitted by Brian on April 24th, 2009 at 12:32 PM

I'd love to get all up on my high horse about this undeniably douchy move by Thad Matta…

When Cameron Wright got off the phone with Ohio State men's basketball coach Thad Matta on Tuesday night, the junior guard from Benedictine knew he was not going to fulfill his dream of playing basketball for the Buckeyes. …

While recruits in football and basketball backing out of non-binding oral commitments isn't unusual, this wasn't a case of a kid changing his mind. Ever since OSU assistant John Groce, the primary recruiter for Wright, left to become the head coach at Ohio last June, Wright said contact from the Buckeyes had been sparse, and the call from Matta on Tuesday led to the final parting.

"I was definitely going to stick with Ohio State," said Wright.

…except I'm pretty sure Michigan did something subtler but similar with DeWayne Peace and Jordan Barnes, football recruits of yesteryear who decommitted in a fashion something less than voluntary. Peace had a conversation like this at some point:

Michigan: We'd like you to play defensive back.
Peace: Didn't I tell you I wanted to be a receiver?
Michigan: Yep.
Peace: Excuse me, I have to call Kansas.

Barnes, meanwhile, cited a wholesale lack of contact from the Michigan staff when he decommitted.* (He would later end up at Oklahoma State.) In both these cases Michigan didn't actually call up and say "you can't come here anymore," which makes their actions fractionally less douchy than those of Matta, but it's basically the same thing: whoops, can I have that scholarship back?

This might not be a trend yet, but it will be one soon, and then it will just be a fact of life. It's inevitable what with recruiting schedules moving so far forward, especially in basketball. Wright committed a year and a half ago(!). In the interim he went from highly touted to anonymous three-star. If you're a Michigan basketball fan you're probably thinking "I sort of wish Amaker had the balls to do that with Jerrett Smith," which assumes that Amaker would actually have replaced Smith with someone better but whatever. I feel you.

What's inevitable is also totally unfortunate, though. Wright's depressed final quote isn't going to be showing up in any annoying commercials starring violin-playing Asian soccer virtuosos:

"At the end of the day, it's all a business."

I thought the entire point was that it wasn't, in fact, a business. Upon this rests the entire near-fiction, not to mention the NCAA's tax-exempt status: that, in the end, the best interests of the student-athlete are paramount. That once you tell this Wright kid he can play basketball at Ohio State, he gets to unless he fails social studies six times or gets so high he can touch the sun.

As a fan I'd meet this news with two different emotions. One: hurray, it's more likely the team will be good. Two: boo, it's going to be harder to cheer for them when the ghost of Cameron Wright is sitting next to the walk-ons in a Cleveland State jersey. Everyone has a different balance there; mine slants heavily towards #2.

So it's good to be a fan of a university that did not actually run Jerrett Smith off, at least not before he got to campus. Smith's now a bench player at Grand Valley State after being booted for failing to meet standards set by Beilein. This also happened to Kendrick Price. Their removal from the team was not voluntary, but that seems fine as long as the standards are uniform and don't include things like "be useful on the court." Given the continued presence of Anthony Wright (before the Oklahoma game, at least), it's safe to say this isn't one of the standards.

Rodriguez's dance with the decommits hews closer to a line I'm uncomfortable with but still ends up on the right side of the line. If you don't think a kid can contribute or doesn't fit in your offense, it's best to tell them and let them make up their own mind. It's better to find out Michigan thinks you're a defensive back before signing day, after all, and unless you're being dishonest about that—which we'll never have any way of knowing—that's probably a net benefit. Peace is now a receiver at a place he'd rather be.

Barnes' case is murkier but there, too, Michigan let the guy make up his own mind. They helped along by making him feel unwanted, and while I'd prefer it if Michigan waited long enough to make sure they really wanted everyone they offered that kind of scrupulousness would put them behind the eight-ball, and as long as you don't actually yank the offer the kid's making a choice.

Do I have a larger point here? This is where the larger point goes. I don't know. I was just going to turn this into a UV bit and then it ended up pushing 1000 words, so you've read to the end and I should have a point.

I guess it's this: I don't want Michigan to be the sort of program that can pull what Matta just did. While I'm fine up to a point with the occasional moral compromise required to stay atop the shifting sands of Lemming-era recruiting, Rodriguez's tendency to shotgun offers out and let God sort 'em out later seems like a strategy that will lead to more uncomfortable situations not unlike a middle school dance: one party is desperately trying to extricate themselves from a situation they didn't think through before they checked the box that said "yes I like you."

*(I can no longer find a link for this, unfortunately. I have referenced it before, though. At the time of the decommit there was an Indy Star article that was pretty blunt about it.)



April 24th, 2009 at 1:05 PM ^

I think some of the strong points of Brian's article are lost in his desire to differentiate Rodriguez's tactics from Matta's. I mean, he tried to subtly nudge them out the door instead of flat-out telling them not to come. It sounds like a tactic I would use when I was in high school to avoid a person I didn't like.


April 24th, 2009 at 3:28 PM ^

Dude: I didn't say there was *much* difference, and I do think there is one: Barnes wasn't told he had no offer anymore. There was no "yoink." That's a big difference.

matty blue

April 24th, 2009 at 1:17 PM ^

if, as is assumed, matta told the kid "thanks but no thanks" after previously extending an offer, we're talking about the difference between active and passive actions. the end result is the same, but the intent is different.

which isn't to say that i agree with rodriguez (or any coach) doing it, because i don't. we're talking fractions of gray here, but differences nonetheless.


April 24th, 2009 at 6:26 PM ^

That just simply not true. RR did not pull his offer and regardless of what you may think happened, the simple fact is that you don't. Unless you are a mind reader then you have no way of knowing what the reasons behind lack of contact were. All this talk of it being done to convince the kid to leave is just speculation. The fact is, unless an offer is pulled then you really don't have a reason to bitch.

Blue boy johnson

April 24th, 2009 at 1:21 PM ^

I recall Rodriguez saying something like, "sometimes a kid does you a favor when he decommits." What's the beef? Not knowing both sides of the recruitment, I thought Rodriguez was basically fed up with dealing with the demands of each kid, and thought a split was best.
It does not seem talent was a decisive factor in Rodriguez' thinking, personality may have been. I am not sure which decommits he was alluding to, though Barnes and Peace seem to be the usual suspects. All in all I think it would have been better if McGuffie had decommitted in February 08 instead of December 08, he would have been doing everyone a favor, including himself.


April 24th, 2009 at 1:34 PM ^

While I am troubled by the reports of the way Peace and Barnes were subtlely "nugged" away from signing with UM, I do think the fact that both ended up at BCS conference schools provides evidence that it might not have been because they were no longer deemed "good enough" for a UM football scholarship. I don't think either of them dropped in their rankings from the time they committed until they were "let go" as appears to be the case with this OSU basketball recruit.


April 24th, 2009 at 1:37 PM ^

There are recruits that verbal to a school and then later rescind that verbal (Beaver is one example). RR did a good job of getting Robinson after that happened, but I'm guessing if Beaver had told RR 'no thanks' a lot earlier in the process then maybe RR would have pursued some other QB's instead of scrambling at the end to get Robinson.

It's a fine line to draw. In a perfect world if you had 20 scholarships to offer you'd only make 20 offers. However, we know it's not and we know some recruits who get offered will turn it down. For lack of a better example off the top of my head, it's like fishing. More often then not, you have to cast that line a number of times before you reel a fish in.


April 24th, 2009 at 1:53 PM ^

That statement sums up how I feel about Michigan and our program. One of the components of our brand, and part of its personal appeal to me, is that in the past we have been above the average school in standards and results, but also in actions. While unlike some posters above, I do see a difference between 'they haven't been calling me and it feels like they don't like me as much anymore" and "sorry kid, we don't have a scholarship for you any longer", the line is getting too blurry for my personal taste. I want us to be above reproach in everything we do and in the way we treat the kids who come, and that starts before they get to school. It should start from the first contact we make. I feel so strongly about that that I would sacrifice a victory here or there to ensure it. Now that may be unrealistic in some way but that IMHO.

Blue boy johnson

April 24th, 2009 at 2:14 PM ^

Do either of you think Michigan has crossed the proverbial "blurry line"? If so when? I am unaware of any instances where Michigan told a kid to get lost. Decommits are just that decommits.There are a myriad of reasons a 17 year old will change his mind. It is best if it happens before he signs a LOI.

los barcos

April 24th, 2009 at 2:22 PM ^

i agree with brian and often thought the same thing about what rr does. i dont like the idea that he said something to the extent of "sometimes a kid does you a favor by decommiting". i hope this is just an example of rr getting adjusted to um and not harbinger of things to come re: recruiting.

Blue boy johnson

April 24th, 2009 at 2:33 PM ^

Recruiting has many dynamics involved and as the process plays out it may become clear that a kid is not going to be a good fit for the School and vice-versa. If Rodriguez had replaced these kids with someone he preferred and then forced them out, I would be appalled, that just does not seem to be the case.
Sometimes a kid does do you a favor by decommiting.


April 24th, 2009 at 5:16 PM ^

wasn't one of the 17 year old kids RR was discussing. Yes he didn't name names, but there are only a couple of guys that applies to. Sometimes being candid is unnecessarily harmful. Magee was "candid" when he was quoted in the press as saying Threet was "inconsistent, as usual". Did you think that was appropriate?


April 24th, 2009 at 2:36 PM ^

In a way I find the ceasing of contact with a kid to cause them to decommit to be worse than telling them straight that parting ways would be best. I don't think the scholarship offer should be rescinded but maybe something like: "Look, we don't think you will work out well here but the decision is in your hands. You might be better off in a different system or at a different school. We will always honor our scholarship offer and you have the opportunity to come and compete for a starting job on the Michigan football team."

Tell them what the situation is, don't make them feel cut off from the people who had been previously calling them everyday and showing interest.


April 24th, 2009 at 3:28 PM ^

"In a way I find the ceasing of contact with a kid to cause them to decommit to be worse than telling them straight that parting ways would be best."

i agree with this. its like when women call men "jerks" when they hook up with a girl and ignore her afterwards. every women will say "well, why dont you just tell fugly girl#1 you dont want to hook up with her instead of ignoring her phone calls." sometimes its just better to tell the girl to stop calling instead of leading her on.


April 24th, 2009 at 3:51 PM ^

I'm only engaged, so I'm hoping some of the married men can back me up on this, but equating women in a dating context with recruits is simply an unworkable analogy.

With recruits, you can talk to the recruit, talk to the recruit's parents, talk to the recruit's coach, and get a fair idea of, say, five schools that he can reasonably be expected to choose from.

Now, ask a woman whom you love to choose a restaurant for her upcoming Masters graduation. You can talk to her parents. You can talk to her boss. You can talk to her friends. You can even have a direct interview with her in which she yields the names of 20 top restaurants (if you are lucky enough to get such information from her). The chances of the restaurant you will eventually eat at being on any of those lists, or any restaurant being named twice on two lists, or any of those people even giving you a list instead of one unworkable "suggestion" (which, depending on whom your asking, may include an unrelated lesson or moral), are all about nil.

What do you do in this restaurant situation? You pick one that she might have mentioned months ago, and surprise her with it, and that's the perfect restaurant. Send her a text message, on the other hand, and she'll switch sports.

I don't claim to be an expert on women, or even to understand my fiance (and sorry to say but I've already locked up the last blue chip on the board so you're all pretty much fucked). But as much as they might complain of men being dishonest by not calling -- you're just going to have to trust me on this -- actually calling and saying something along the lines of "I have no interest in you anymore; have a good life," is just asking for your name to be burned into the female collective's mind as "complete asshole."

On the other hand, if you're in the ice cream business, I recommend doing this all the time.

Hope I've been helpful (or at least kind of funny)


April 24th, 2009 at 3:55 PM ^

I'm with Farnn. Recruiting is already a big advertisement campaign. In a way, your recruitment can tell you as much about a school as a comic book can give you a fair idea of what a human body looks like (thank you Oregon for taking this literally).

In that context, the truth can probably run off any number of oopsy commitments. My personal favorite method is: "hey, wanna see why it's called the UGLI?"

Okay, kidding aside, I think that long-term, Michigan should go the Farnn route: call the kid, explain you picked up a commitment from players that fit your system better, tell them you will honor the commitment if he still wants to come compete for the job. Lay it out there, and do it as soon as possible, so that it's coming from a respectful and respectable program that's being upfront with information that is best for the student. If he comes anyway, he's a (can't believe I'm using this cliche) Michigan Man, and if we get something out of him, it's gravy. If not, at least he and his coach and his parents (who might have another more talented boy in the wings) and his high school teammates know that we're not just blowing smoke up their asses.


April 24th, 2009 at 4:37 PM ^

I agree that cutting back on contact is probably worse than just coming out and telling the kid the scholarship is gone. Ultimately, the kid should get the hint and try to leave, but man up and tell him he won't work in the system but that he has a chance to compete. The kids most often affected by this switcheroo are lower-level recruits who would likely have to compete hard even for a chance to make the field in any system, so they should already be prepared for the reality that they might not see playing time. Let that be known to them, and then give them a chance. Maybe they'll work out, and now you have a kid who is happy to be there and who will make it known to other recruits. If he fails to break the starting line-up and decides to transfer, then at most you have screwed up your academic numbers a bit and lost a middling scholarship player for a year. I rather give the kid a chance than be a jerk and take away the opportunity before he steps onto the field. That's why I agree with Brian that RR's shotgun recruiting needs to be tempered a bit, which I hope will occur as he realizes he isn't recruiting for WV freaking U and can just recruit kids he feels are good for the program, not take flyers out on mediocre kids who realistically don't have a chance of starting.


April 24th, 2009 at 5:31 PM ^

I don't think the shotgun recruiting is from him not realizing he isn't at WVU. (I mean really, this is a pretty bright football coach, I'm sure he sees that he isn't in WV anymore) My feeling is that it partly stems from huge amounts of pressure on him to win big and win soon, as well as a record like 3-9 coupled with the media's bashing that are deterring some recruits we would otherwise have a shot with.

matty blue

April 24th, 2009 at 3:15 PM ^

how do you connect this to nba rules? wouldn't matta's tendency to recruit the one-and-done types mean he needs more talent, and not less? i'm not following you.

as an aside - suggesting that this is something that's just happening to matta, rather than something that he has brought on himself, is fairly disingenuous. he's building his program around those guys, or rather he doesn't shy away from them as much as some others might.


April 24th, 2009 at 6:32 PM ^

I agree with Brian fully, and believe Michigan should be above sleazy recruiting tactics. If an offer of a scholarship is made, and then accepted, the accepted offer should be honored. Now, I think it is only fair to let the recruit know if they don't fit well, or if you don't think they'll see the field, so they can go elsewhere if they really want to play on Sat. afternoons.

There is part of this issue I'm not sure has been fully addressed yet. It is what I call the "Rudy" principle. It isn't a perfect analogy, as Rudy at ND was not recruited there, and did not start with a scholarship (did he ever get one?) Regardless, Rudy was an ND fan, more than being a fan of football per se. Here's the point: Rudy would have much rather been a practice team player at ND than a starter elsewhere. If a "meh" candidate receives an offer to the school of his dreams, and accepts the offer, it should be honored, period. It's the coaches screwup if they offered someone they weren't sure about in the first place. There are a ton of "Sad Josh" unrequited love guys on the 2010 recruiting board. If, for whatever reason, they get an offer from Michigan, they've already reached their goal. I'd EXPECT them to accept it.

Since the OSU debacle was with basketball, lets use two or three basketball player analogies: CJ Lee, David Merritt, and Jevohn Shepherd. These guys were never going to be stars. They don't have the skill set of Sims or Manny or LLP. But they were an integral part of the team. If, for whatever reason, players like this are offered a scholarship, and they honor the terms (practice, intensity, grades, whatever,) then the scholarship should be honored. These guys KNOW they will warm the bench. But they'd rather warm the bench at Michigan than play at Ferris or Grand Valley or some directional school.

One more analogy: the NCAA tourney. Some teams are just happy to get into the field . . . others are disappointed if they don't win it all. Pulling a scholarship (Matta) is like saying "You made the field" and then pulling it for another team. You can't do that. For every Will Campbell (or Tate Forcier, or DRob) there are 10 guys who will rarely if ever see the field. But they're part of the TEAM. As I believe Bo said, it's all about the TEAM, the TEAM, the TEAM. I don't want us to mess with the mind of a kid who has always wanted to go to Michigan.

Let's face it, a lot of us Michigan grads were "meh" students, but we're proud to have a Michigan degree. I myself was a terrible student at Michigan (think Faber College and Animal House), flunked out, but persevered, got back in, and finished. Being a lousy student at Michigan who still managed to graduate was and is worth a ton more to me than being a star at a lesser college.

And last point: virtually everyone here blathers on about the value of a Michigan education. Well, it's valuable . . . it's also awful expensive. Man, if my kid was offered full room, board, tuition, and fees, for four years, to sit on the bench or carry water at Michigan, you better believe I'd say grab the offer and run. What's an offer like that worth? $200k? Nothing to sneeze at.

What this means for me with Michigan football is that I'm a bit worried about all the offers out there. So I just looked at the board. What happens if Zwinak, Hall, Finch and Jackson (Four 3 star RB recruits w/ offers on the table) all accept in the same day next week? Are there conditional offers (i.e., if Lattimore accepts, your offer is pulled?) or (if Lattimore declines, we'll give you an offer?)

I'm very curious about the ratio of offers to spots. Currently, 8 spots are filled, leaving 12 more openings, give or take. With 74 offers out on Brian's board, and maybe another 25 offers that aren't posted, that's a ratio of 8 offers to one spot. Is this common? My only point of reference, which is totally irrelevant, is admission to U of M. If there are 5,000 incoming Freshman every year, this ratio would mean there would be 40,000 acceptance letters to fill the class. Since Michigan is pretty selective, I'm sure the ratio is much lower. 100 offers on the table sounds like WVa recruiting to me, where you had to offer a lot more guys to fill the class. If Michigan already has 8 offers accepted, and we might expect 2 - 4 not to pan out out of all those "accepted," I would think that we need to be rescinding some of the offers in areas where we're filling up.

Specifically, with 4 WR's already on the board, I can't understand why we still have so many with offers still on the table.

I'm already way into the "TLDR" danger zone, but I really resonate with this issue. Brian pushed my buttons on this one.

El Jeffe

April 24th, 2009 at 8:09 PM ^

There seem to be several issues being debated here:

1. What is the ethical distance between what Matta (apparently) did with Wright and what RR (apparently) did with Peace and Barnes?

2. What is the ethical standing of subtly or not so subtly encouraging a recruit to decommit?

As to (1), I would say that although they clearly serve the same purpose, they are miles apart in terms of ethics, assuming (a) Wright had a written offer from OSU and (b) RR wouldn't have done the same thing Matta did if Peace and Barnes hadn't taken the hint. Holy fucking hell, did Matta actually yoink a written scholarship offer? It doesn't exactly say that in the article. It could be that he strongly recommended that Wright decommit, which would be in between yoinking and how RR handled Peace and Barnes on the douchy scale, IMO. But it sounds like we don't know exactly what happened yet from that article.

As to (2), I totally agree with the approach advocated by Farnn--"we don't think you'll fit in, but if you want a chance to compete, we will honor our WRITTEN FUCKING SCHOLARSHIP OFFER."


April 24th, 2009 at 9:11 PM ^

FWIW, whenever the written scholarship offers are sent out, they all include "we reserve the right to revoke this" language in them. It was just one of the notable things to see when Tate posted all his offer letters last year. Of course, while it's within their right to revoke, it's still pretty unethical to revoke it after someone has actually committed. And has been sitting on that commitment for a year and a half when they could have been looking into other colleges (unless he was still looking or something, I haven't followed the situation).


April 26th, 2009 at 7:11 PM ^

...it's also important to note the circumstances in Matta's situation. The team is probably going to lose 1 or 2 scholarships next year due to the APR restrictions, this in large part due to the defections of players such as Kosta Koufos. You only get 13 in basketball, and that as well as other factors (David Lighty redshirted this year, he lost his only undergraduate point guard, he has four other guys committed in 2010) has really destroyed a lot of flexibility he has with scholarships. Ethically, I'm not sure where it puts the move, but it would be incorrect to characterize this as simply "you were good but now your average see ya".