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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Bolden situation reveals rotten scholarship system

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Hate Mail: Some moved beyond UConn column -- but not many

This is not about Rob Bolden, the Penn State freshman quarterback who wants to transfer to another school. I don't know if he's courageous or scared, or if he's destined to play in the NFL. Frankly, I don't know if he's worth all the fuss. Nor do I care. Because this is not about Rob Bolden.

Likewise, this is not about Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who refuses to release Bolden from his scholarship. I know more about Paterno than I do about Bolden, that Paterno is a generally class guy who has abused his power and popularity by refusing to leave the sideline at age 84, but those are the last references to Paterno's character you'll read here, because as I've said, this is not about Joe Paterno.

Joe Paterno won't let Robert Bolden go, but a coach can leave whenever he wants. Sounds like hypocrisy. (AP)  
Joe Paterno won't let Robert Bolden go, but a coach can leave whenever he wants. Sounds like hypocrisy. (AP)  
This is about a scholarship system that is screwed up. Not broken, because calling this system "broken" would suggest that it was ever whole. And it wasn't. It's not. And it won't be until a player like Rob Bolden can walk into the office of a coach like Joe Paterno and tell him -- not ask him, but tell him -- that he wants to transfer.

As it is, when Bolden told Paterno earlier this week that he wanted to transfer, Paterno said no. Or something along those lines. Technically, the message Paterno delivered to Bolden was this: Leave if you want, but you can't get a scholarship anywhere else until the 2012 season. For 2011, you're mine.

And Bolden doesn't want to belong to Paterno, or to Penn State. He gave it a shot, becoming the first true freshman quarterback in a century to start the season opener for the Nittany Lions, but he suffered a concussion in the seventh game, lost his job to injury, and never got it back. In the meantime, Paterno invested the rest of the season in a sophomore walk-on named Matt McGloin, and used several media opportunities to speak glowingly of another true freshman in the program, Paul Jones.

Bolden's no dummy. He was recruited to Penn State as the quarterback of the future, but now he's a JAG -- just another guy. He didn't go to Penn State to be just another guy, so he wants to go somewhere else, and be someone else's quarterback of the future.

Your opinion of Rob Bolden is irrelevant. Is he a brave young man for telling a living legend like Joe Paterno that he doesn't want to play for him anymore? Is he a scared little kid who doesn't want to compete for the job? He could be neither. He could be both. I don't care, because that's not the point.

The point is, the system is oppressive. Once he signs a scholarship, a college football player has almost no rights. Most of the time, I'm fine with that. He can't be paid collegiately for his services, even as the best ones -- Cam Newton at Auburn, Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State -- help generate millions of dollars for their schools. And again, I'm fine with that.

A college player can't sell his memorabilia, and I'm fine with that too. The short-sighted hysterics see fraud when Ohio State sells 20 versions of Pryor's jersey, and Georgia does the same with A.J. Green's jersey -- but then those players get suspended multiple games for selling the jersey themselves. Bigger picture, players can't be allowed to sell their memorabilia because it would open the door for legal cheating. Here's how: A college coach tells a hot-shot high school recruit, "Come to my school, and I'll find a booster willing to pay you $5,000 for your game jersey, one jersey a month."

Never thought of that, did you?

Anyway, back to the point. Players have to turn down the money raining down upon them, and they have to stay academically eligible despite devoting 30 hours or more each week to practice, training, travel and the game. They have to avoid eavesdropping media, professional and social, hoping to catch them in embarrassing predicaments. They have to do all those things, and I'm fine with it, with one basic concession to the player:

That he can transfer if he wants.

That he doesn't have to ask for permission, as if Joe Paterno is his father or his boss or worse, his owner. Rob Bolden isn't a professional athlete. He isn't a piece of property, either. He's a human being who made one college decision at age 17, and now wants to make another at age 18.

And his coach -- the same coach who jerked him around the second half of the 2010 season -- gets to veto that decision?

Really?

This is bad stuff, and again, this isn't about Joe Paterno. It's more about a snake like Randy Edsall, who was scheming to leave UConn in the days before UConn played the biggest game in program history, the Fiesta Bowl. Edsall didn't even fly back east with his players. He skipped the team charter and flew directly to College Park, Md., to accept the Terps' job. He got an enormous raise and can coach at Maryland right away in 2011.

But if Rob Bolden transfers to Maryland, he'd have to sit out the 2011 season -- and pay his own way as a student. See, without a scholarship release Bolden can still leave Penn State, but only if he's willing (and able) to pay his tuition, room and board at the new school before being put on scholarship in fall 2012.

Out of high school in Michigan, Bolden signed with Penn State over Nebraska and Oregon, among others. Any idea how much it costs to spend a year at Nebraska as an out-of-state student? It's almost $31,000. But that's a bargain compared to a year at Oregon, which would cost Bolden more than $38,000.

So, sure. Bolden can transfer if he wants. Any player can transfer if he wants. But can he afford it? Could you? Now you know why transfers are relatively rare in college football, where 85 players are on scholarship per school. It's not that 83 or 84 of them are thrilled to be where they are, homesick or buried on the depth chart or both. No. It's because they can't afford to go anywhere else, and their coach won't let them leave for free.

This system sucks. Shame on you, NCAA, for allowing it. And while this story isn't really about Joe Paterno, screw it. I'll say it. Shame on you, Joe Paterno. You and Penn State are married 'til death do you part -- fine. But Rob Bolden wants a divorce.

Give it to him, you bully.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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