Although it's not common, the fact we have seen a few cases of coaches not letting players out of a letter of intent -- or letting them transfer to a school they please -- in recent years is a bad look for the men leading college basketball.
Perhaps Appalachian State coach Jason Capel thought because he was at a small school that this news wouldn't get out, or get much run, but that's seldom the case these days. Capel landed a player named Devonte' Graham, who's currently in prep school. His extra year before college basketball has led to an increased profile and a signficant upturn in potential suitors.
Problem for Graham is he signed his letter of intent to play at Appalachian State before he blew up, so to speak. And now, as first reported by SNY.tv, UConn, Creighton, Rhode Island and Pittsburgh are knocking on Graham's door, yet he can't do anything about it because Capel won't let the kid double back on his decision.
Is that right? Or should Graham be counted on to honor his word? Should we prevent a player from getting a better opportunity even if it comes later than expected?
"Unless Appalachian State decides to release him we're all wasting our time," a Division 1 coach at one of those schools told SNY.tv. Graham committed to Appalachian State in September 2012 out of Raleigh (N.C.) Broughton High School.
"They say that Appalachian State stole one," the Division 1 coach said in reference to how the talented player ended up at that level. Smith said Graham requested a release from his NLI last February but was denied.
"He opted to do a postgraduate year at Brewster," [Brewster coach Jason] Smith said. "He can't speak with schools because Appalachian State hasn't released him."
According to an anonymous source speaking to SNY.tv, Capel's holding a piece of paper of Graham's head because he believes at least one other program has tampered with his coveted prospect. If Graham wants to never play for App. State, he'll have to sit next season, lose a year of eligibility in the process, and then start at his program of choice for 2015-16.
This is yet another glaring, embarassing example of why the national letter of intent just needs to be vaporized. Players are not mandated to sign it. It serves no good purpose for them. It's a reason to earn a headline and take a photo. And in rare cases, things like Graham's conundrum can happen. Unfortunately, the reports have it that Graham has been going about his life for more than half a year attached to Appalachian State when he could have bigger opportunities.
This story has reached mainstream college hoops blogs now, and while some coaches can empathize with Capel, in general it's a bad look. Players have such little power as it is, restricting them even more so -- even if you feel burned as a coach -- doesn't wear well. The public, and opposing recruiters, don't care about the off-the-record details that got you into this situation. They can and will use it against you.
If Graham wants to verbally put up more of a stink over this, the saga could bloom further for Capel. Stay tuned.
UPDATE, 1:45 p.m.: Appalachian State has put out this release in wake of the attention Graham's case as brought. I've pared it down a bit for editorial clarity.
We take particular exception to the unsubstantiated and irresponsible opinion of some media members that we are holding a student-athlete "hostage." With his family's blessing and support, Devonte Graham willingly and excitedly chose to sign a National Letter of Intent with Appalachian State last November after having the opportunity to be recruited by 351 NCAA Division I programs.
Furthermore, if he thought that a more desirable situation might arise in the future, he also had the option to wait until the late signing period in April to make his college choice. Since he chose to sign a binding Letter of Intent with Appalachian State, we stopped recruiting a large number of student-athletes at his position in his class who would have been grateful for the opportunity to receive a full scholarship to attend and play basketball at our great institution.
As our coaching staff fully expected, Devonte had a terrific senior season last winter and, accordingly, drew the interest of programs from what are widely recognized as "power conferences." However, due to his binding agreement with Appalachian State, other programs were not permitted by NCAA rules to contact him, be it directly or through people claiming to represent his interests. Due to our concerns that these rules were not followed and the fact that we had turned away all other potential student-athletes that could have capably filled his spot on the roster, we denied his request for a release from his binding Letter of Intent.
We also made the NCAA aware of our concerns.
While we understand that it is en vogue [sic] for the media to hammer away at the perceived bureaucracy of the NCAA, recruiting rules and guidelines are in place to protect student-athletes and NCAA institutions alike. Without them, recruiting would be utter chaos. All of that being said, the situation is now in the hands of the NCAA and will be resolved by its governance. Therefore, we will not have any further comment on the matter.