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Frank Haith’s departure is a reminder of a stupid NCAA rule

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Friday, April 18, 2014, at 11:48 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, April 18, 2014, at 12:38 p.m.

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So Frank Haith is leaving Missouri for Tulsa, which makes perfect sense if he is either a) an oil tycoon, or b) a basketball coach entering a hot-seat season without much confidence.

The headline, like the good-looking man wrote here, is that Haith is doing Missouri a significant favor — but only if athletics director Mike Alden makes a better hire this time.

There are a lot of other ways we can go with the Haith news, but I keep coming back to the kids who signed what are effectively one-sided contracts to play basketball for Haith at Mizzou. This not only includes players like Johnathan Williams III, Wes Clark and Ryan Rosburg who are on the roster, but specifically four-star recruits Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright. Juco All-American Kevin Punter held a ceremonial signing this week, but never sent the official letter to MU, meaning he can (and will) reopen his recruiting.

But those other kids are stuck, which is just a patently unfair reality that would only exist in a world where the adults make the rules and the players have no say^.

^ Another rule that is plainly against the athletes’ best interests is the early deadline for players to declare for the NBA draft. Coaches pushed this because they didn’t like waiting on decisions, and then needing to fill gaps over the summer if a kid left early. So they made it harder on the player, artificially forcing them to make one of the biggest decisions without all the information, basically for the coaches’ convenience. Absurd.

This isn’t a Mizzou issue, obviously. This happens every time a coach leaves a program, like when Cuonzo Martin signed a kid one day and, literally, left Tennessee the next day.

As long as the NCAA is fixing some its most ridiculous rules, it could do something to at least recruits void a letter-of-intent if the coach they signed with won’t be there for the first day of practice. If the NCAA is really interested in being fair, they’d let the guys who’ve been on campus do the same^.

^ There’s also a point to be made that this could help coaches. If an incoming freshman and new coach just don’t mesh, that’s not good for anybody. The kid will either stay and be unhappy, or transfer. Either way, he’s in a situation that he and his coach (and you’d assume, the rest of the team) would be better without. Let the kid find a better situation. Let the coach do the same.

There are unintended consequences here to guard against, like programs being gutted over a coaching change, but the NCAA should do the right thing here. There was obviously more to Mizzou than just the coach that attracted Gant and Wright, so if the new coach is to their liking, then everybody wins. If the roster construction, or campus, or facilities, or vibe with teammates or the pretty girl they saw on their visit is what drew them to Columbia, then they stay. But playing for a new coach is not what they signed up for.

There is enough momentum for change that this rule will almost certainly be fixed soon. Just not soon enough if Gant and Wright end up playing for a coach they don’t like.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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