Vanderdoes appeal puts light back on college commitment issues

Eddie Vanderdoes originally picks Notre Dame, but that UCLA hat kept calling him home. (USATSI)
Eddie Vanderdoes originally picks Notre Dame, but that UCLA hat kept calling him home. (USATSI)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -- To make his case in the most celebrated transfer case in recent memory, Eddie Vanderdoes spoke for an hour. Straight. A National Letter of Intent appeals committee listened on a conference call why the five-star defensive tackle should get a complete release from his Notre Dame letter of intent.

An hour. How many of us have talked to anyone about anything -- coherently and convincingly -- for an hour? Straight.

"I didn't need any notes," said Vanderdoes after a recent UCLA practice here. "I just reviewed it with myself. I didn't really need anything like paper because I knew what I was saying. It came from my heart."

After presenting his case -- "a great one," he insisted -- Vanderdoes said he took questions from the committee for about 20 minutes. And, then, that was it. He was eligible to transfer immediately to join the Bruins less than six months after signing with the Irish. In between the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder made himself quite the offseason bullet point.

His story comes complete with arguments about commitments, promises and morality wrapped in the everyday cyber-silliness of college football. In early June, Vanderdoes announced he was transferring to UCLA, having already enrolled at Westwood. CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman first reported that the main reason was the sickness of a close relative.

That relative turned out to be a grandmother who has breast cancer.

"That was one reason, that definitely wasn't the main reason," he said.

That's where the mystery starts because Vanderdoes hasn't elaborated.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly blocked the move, refusing to give the prep star from Austin, Calif. a full release. That meant Vanderdoes would have had to sit out a year and lose a year of eligibility. Then two weeks ago, the NCAA ruled Vanderdoes eligible to transfer immediately from Notre Dame without sitting out.

A great case made, indeed.

Kelly immediately fired off a statement saying he didn't agree with the decision and that the "integrity" of the NLI has to be protected. That set off the age-old debate about the indentured servitude of athletes vs. the job freedom enjoyed by their coaches.

"[The letter of intent] says it's a two-way agreement," Vanderdoes said. "A coach shouldn't be able to pick up and leave. If a kid leaves it's, 'Oh, you've got to miss a year. You don't get to redshirt.' That's not fair if [a coach leaves] before a bowl game. I think it should be a two-way thing."

Even the player understands that Kelly had to at least send a message by blocking his transfer. Kelly had to do it for every recruit who thinks about leaving Notre Dame. He had to do it for the profession. If Notre Dame's coach didn't fight back, strange ideas might get into the heads of players everywhere.

Vanderdoes doesn't agree with Kelly, but he does understand. Here's how a typical appeal works.

Here's how Vanderdoes summed up his situation:

"He [Kelly] somewhat wants to send a message ...

"The university is expecting you to be there. They're giving you some playbook information, kind of teaching you stuff before you get there. Then it's 'Oh, I'm going to go to the rival school.' You should have circumstances that are bigger than the contract you signed.'"

Again, Vanderdoes wouldn't elaborate beyond his grandmother. The unfairness of the NLI doesn't take into account the whims of 18-year olds. They do change their minds. Frequently. They should be allowed to change their minds.

"To a point," Vanderdoes said. "You're committing to a school. You're signing your life away to a school. You can't just say, 'I don't want to go here.' You have to have reasons. I don't think you should just be able to leave."

That conviction bolsters Vanderdoes' points to the appeals committee even more.

"It's not some BS I came up with," he said.

Aside from that bit of rancor from Kelly, it has been mostly a peaceful departure. Vanderdoes says he loves Notre Dame and still keeps in touch with Irish players Louis Nix III and Prince Shembo, among others.

"They weren't like, 'Why did you leave?' " he said. 'They were like, 'We understand. Hope you get released. Hope everything goes well for you.' "

When asked by reporters last week if Notre Dame was cooperative, Vanderdoes said, 'Everybody but one coach.'

When asked if that coach was Kelly, the player said, "No comment."

Vanderdoes told CBSSports.com that Notre Dame was "two days late," regarding an NLI deadline regarding his appeal. However, a Notre Dame spokesman denied that claim after speaking to the school's compliance officials.

So what we're left with is a smart, articulate freshman who has been dropped into the lap of a rising Pac-12 program. There are worse situations to be in.

"Physically, he has what it takes," said UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure, who recruited Vanderdoes. "Now it's just adjusting to the college game, certainly how we practice. We practice at a high tempo."

No problem there, says the player who practiced against an Auburn (Calif.) Placer High offense that snapped the ball "every four seconds."

Now it's a case of settling in. Hot Cali kid in a hot Cali program. Vanderdoes is certainly aware of the cybercrap that has been hurled at him by Notre Dame fans. Homesick mama's boy? Not a chance. Vanderdoes says almost proudly he hasn't talked to his parents in three weeks.

"It's a very prideful fan base," Vanderdoes said of Notre Dame. "There are ones that have an open mind and not just saying it's my fault that I left because of mommy and daddy and grandma. Some fans don't look into it. They just see the basics."

The one-time pride of the Irish was asked if he remembered his words upon signing his Notre Dame letter of intent in front of a high school assembly.

"Over, signed, done with," Vanderdoes said back then.

"I sure wasn't done," he told CBSSports.com last week. "That's why I came here."

One of the top defensive tackles in the country obviously has talked a good game with that appeals committee. Now we'll see if he can play it.

 
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