Big time college football recruiting, when it is all said and done, is a business, and as recent events suggest, that is no different for Louisville than it is for Alabama, Florida State, or any other school in a Power 5 conference.
Two significant moves were made by the Louisville football staff in recent days, and both moves could be considered controversial, to say the least.
The first move was to accept a commitment from one of the best defensive ends in the country in Devonte Fields. He was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman for TCU. He is ranked as the #1 DE JUCO recruit in college football, and one site, Scout.com, rates him as a 5-star prospect. The catch? His exit from TCU was not exactly voluntarily, for after turning himself in for misdemeanor assault after reportedly striking his then-girlfriend her in the face (and allegedly pulling a gun on her and threatening her, an accusation she later recanted), he left the program.
The next move came Monday night, when 3-star RB Matt Colburn, who was named Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina and who had been a Louisville commit since June 2014, had his scholarship offer to be a member of the class of 2015 pulled. The staff has reportedly asked him to greyshirt, meaning they would like him to attend prep school at his own cost (or at the cost of his family) for a semester before he enrolls at Louisville.
A greyshirt is not an uncommon request, especially when a player has grade issues, and it is also not uncommon for a top-tier team to have other prospects in mind and ask a player to sit tight for a semester. However, whereas all teams do it, not all teams do it two days before national signing day, which is precisely what Louisville did. There are no reports of Colburn having grade issues, though, and the 5-9, 186 lb. running back does not seem all too pleased with the Louisville staff. Another commit, having heard the news, is also not too thrilled…
Man what Louisville did to my boy Matt was messed up….. That’s awful
— GG (@GGRobinson85) February 3, 2015
These moves suggest Louisville is operating on a single thought process: football first. Bobby Petrino and his staff were brought to Louisville for one reason, and that is to win football games and win as many as possible. If that means offering a second chance to a player accused of assaulting a female and withdrawing a first-chance offer for a less-talented player who did nothing wrong, it appears they are fine with that and are not the only school to feel that way. Alabama did the exact same thing, for not only did they land a star JUCO lineman accused of assaulting a woman, they also pulled a scholarship offer from a committed player hours after Louisville pulled Colburn’s.
Major college football recruiting, unfortunately, can be a cruel process. Colburn’s ouster was a result of a numbers crunch, and as Louisville appears to be in position to land other players in other areas of need, he became the odd man out. It is for this reason why fans should always be understanding when committed players take visits elsewhere. The word “commitment” has become a mockery in college sports, from prospects and coaches alike. There have been instances where a committed prospect flips at the last second to another team on signing day, and just like the case with Colburn, offers have been pulled late. The coaches being the adults in the process, though, are the ones who receive the majority of the backlash.
Colburn is a player who has done everything right, has made grades, and he has pledged nothing but loyalty to Louisville since the moment he committed. Seeing this type of player be asked to hold off is a hard pill to swallow for anyone. He never took any other visits, and he never explored his options. Now, a day before national signing day, he is looking for a new school. Saying something along the lines of, “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business” has not exactly healed the wound Louisville just opened, either, as his high school coach has already banned Bobby Petrino and Todd Grantham from recruiting any more of his players.
It is an unfortunate situation, and Louisville has already begun to take heat for the move. Seeing as Bobby Petrino is not exactly the most beloved coach across the nation, the “every school does it” reasoning has been overlooked by most critics of the move, but the sad truth is…every school does it. It is actually how Louisville landed Lorenzo Mauldin, who was forced to open up late after becoming a victim of oversigning at South Carolina. Colburn will land on his feet somewhere, and both parties will move on, but it still is tough to see happen to any player. Big-time college football recruiting can be a dirty game, and Louisville is a player in it.
There is a line in the 2006 film “The Prestige” that applies to Louisville’s predicament. There is a scene in the movie, centered around two rival magicians, where one of the magician’s mentors explains that to be a great magician, one must be willing to do whatever is necessary, even if it could be construed as cruel or inhumane. The exact quote from this character, played by Michael Caine, was,”You’re a magician, not a bloody wizard! If you want to do magic, you’ve got to get your hands dirty.”
Perhaps this is the approach Louisville has taken. They are not a historically traditional program and are not a national championship contender. To become one, they have decided they are okay bringing in a player like Fields and pushing out a player like Colburn, despite how unpopular or unfair it may be. They have decided they are okay getting their hands dirty.