To absolutely no one’s surprise, Kansas State University released student-athlete Corey Sutton Friday, allowing the young man to play football on scholarship at another school.
It was undoubtedly the right thing to do. It was also the right thing for football coach Bill Snyder to apologize to the player and his family for unfairly and needlessly smearing Sutton’s reputation.
The sorry spectacle involving Snyder and Sutton escalated last week. Sutton had expressed a desire to leave K-State and play at one of 35 other colleges or universities next season.
Snyder recklessly refused to approve the required release. Sutton could leave — but he could not qualify for a scholarship at a new school for at least a year.
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Friday, the school overturned Snyder’s decision and released Sutton. While that’s a victory for the student, this unnecessarily messy imbroglio also highlights important lessons for colleges and universities everywhere:
1. Decisions should be focused on the student’s best interest, not the coach’s.
Snyder said “you don’t have much of a team left” if you release backup players like Sutton. The assertion was troubling.
A student, an amateur who routinely risks injury without pay, should not be required to stay against his will so Snyder or any coach can have a “team.”
Finding players is Snyder’s job, for which he is handsomely paid.
2. Players should have the same freedom to move as coaches.
College athletes are not indentured servants, and they aren’t professionals. They provide valuable services without direct compensation, yet cannot always decide for whom those services can be rendered. That’s wrong.
College coaches routinely break contracts for better jobs in other places. And students can be kicked off most teams and lose their scholarships for any reason, including injury.
Student-athlete transfers are restricted for competitive reasons. We think that’s wrong, but in any case, that wasn’t the issue with Sutton.
3. A poor decision hurts more than the team. It makes the school and the state look bad.
What athlete would want to attend KSU? The message is students won’t be allowed to make their own decisions.
Snyder’s implication that Sutton was involved in illicit drug use was particularly ugly. The coach correctly apologized for those remarks Friday.
4. Future problems invite NCAA intervention or a lawsuit or a legislative solution.
Student-athletes increasingly recognize the degree of their exploitation for profit. The Sutton case only reinforces the understanding that millionaire coaches and athletic directors unfairly hold control over the lives of talented young athletes.
That nearly demands legal intervention or collective bargaining — or both.
Bill Snyder is a legend in Kansas. Nonetheless, he made an extraordinarily poor decision.
No one involved in college sports should make a similar mistake again.