Monday afternoon the College Football world learned something that many USC fans have known for some time; five-star Linebacker Matthew Thomas does not want to attend Florida State anymore. Even immediately after signing his National Letter of Intent with the Seminoles, USC fans who followed the recruiting game closely were aware of where Thomas’ heart was. Then, Thomas himself dropped a bombshell when he told 247 Sports Josh Newberg that Florida State was his second choice after his mother would not sign off on the Trojans. Now fast forward almost exactly three months, and Thomas has made it official; he wants out of his Letter of Intent to sign with USC or Georgia. While Jimbo Fisher has shown no signs of budging yet, and media storm has started brewing that may very well force the Seminoles leaders’ hand.
In theory, a National Letter of Intent is a binding contract, but there’s much more grey area here then any tones of black or white. The fact is Thomas is only assured one year of tuition at Florida State. The dirty truth about athletic scholarships is they are one year deals, that are renewable every year at the schools discretion. So while it’s a nice argument to say a player should be happy anywhere because they’re getting a free four-year education, the truth is that funding can come to an end much sooner. While it’s not likely that a five-star athlete like Thomas would have his scholarship revoked, it still seems a bit of a double standard to hold a student against his will, when you can turn around and cut his funding in 12 months if you see fit.
Then there’s the issue of the age restrictions for a National Letter of Intent. An 18 year old can buy cigarettes, they can see R rated movies, they can even decide to put their life on the line and join the military, but signing their own Letter of Intent? No, that’s a no go. In order for a prospective athlete to sign their own paperwork, they must be 21 years of age or older. This in itself creates a whole horde of problems that are counter productive to the idea of going to college and becoming a person who can think, make decisions, and take responsibility for their actions. The scene has played out several times in the past few recruiting seasons, with the most extreme example taking place this February when a mother stole her son’s Letter of Intent off the fax machine and held it ransom for over a day. While that situation ended up working itself out in the end, the Matthew Thomas situation hasn’t been nearly as clean.
Thomas knew where he wanted to go, he told Newberg as much. The decision was USC, and up until hours before signing his Letter of Intent he was telling Trojans coaches and players he was coming to USC. The problem? His mother had stayed behind on his official visit to USC, and would not consent to him attending Southern California without visiting the campus. There was a simple solution here, Thomas needed to call off his announcement until his mother could see the campus and give her son her blessing to attend the University HE wanted to. Thomas has now even told Miami newspapers that was the plan. But that didn’t happen….instead, Thomas’ mother told him he could not call off his announcement on such short notice and that FSU was a good school and he should go there.
Now Jimbo Fisher, Florida State, and most importantly Matthew Thomas are in a very uncomfortable situation. Thomas is in a “binding” agreement to attend a University that wasn’t his first choice, and he doesn’t want to be at. Fisher is now stuck between a rock and a hard place left to decide whether to let one of his most prized recruits walk out the door, or be the bad guy and hold Thomas to the commitment he was pressured to sign before he was truly ready.
It’s easy for me to say Fisher should grant Thomas his request being that I’m a Trojans fan, but I truly believe it’s the right thing to do. There’s no winner if they hold Thomas hostage. Sure the Seminoles get to keep that five-star recruit, but will his head be in the right place if he truly doesn’t want to be at Florida State? Will he give 100% effort on the field? In the classroom? Will he be a good teammate? Will he listen to what the coaches are telling him? These are questions only Thomas can answer for sure, but in many cases if you put a person in a position they have expressed they don’t want to be in they usually respond accordingly.
I’ve seen an argument today that releasing Thomas sets a precedent in College sports that would be dangerous. I’m sorry, but that is nothing short of a double standard to me. Were their people crying foul when USC commit Seantrel Henderson demanded out of his Letter of Intent? I don’t seem to remember any, and while some will surely say that was a different situation because of the sanctions that had been levied against USC I have just one question….Did Henderson and his family who signed off on his Letter of Intent not know sanctions were surely coming? If not then shame on them. Still, faced with the difficult decision in front of him, Lane Kiffin allowed the gem of his first recruiting class as Head Coach of the Trojans to go to the school of his choosing, Miami. Just a few years later Kiffin allowed one his top recruits to transfer to arch rival Notre Dame to be close to his family, and sent Linebacker Glenn Stanley to…..you guessed it, Florida State.
Now I’m not trying to say Fisher is the bad guy, because in my opinion he’s been dealt a bad hand. He has a kid who despite his wish to be elsewhere, he desperately wants to keep because of the impact he can have on the field. Not only that, but now that it’s been made public he’s facing pressure from those in the FSU family to hold firm, and most others to let the kid go where he wants. But the right decision is, and will always be to let Thomas or any other player in this situation to be where they want. I’ve never been a fan of putting restrictions on players transfers, and I’m not a fan of holding a player against their will either. Many college students don’t even make a decision on the school they will ultimately attend till much later in their senior year, but these young men are held to higher standard. For most this will never be an issue because their parents will understand the child’s desire to attend a particular University and wish them well even if they have reservations. However for Thomas that isn’t the case. While I understand the disappointment and anger anyone associated with the Seminoles has about this situation, there is only one right answer to this problem. Let Thomas go where he wants. Whether it’s USC, Georgia, or any other school in the Nation, Matthew Thomas shouldn’t be forced to pay for his mother’s mistake.
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