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UCF wrong for denying athletes request to leave team

Four-star football recruit DaMarcus Smith of Louisville, Ky., originally committed to his hometown University of Louisville. However, like many teenagers, he suddenly changed his mind, and two days after national signing day chose to sign a letter of intent (LOI) to the University of Central Florida, joining one of the best football recruiting classes in UCF’s history.

On Monday, Smith had another change of heart, deciding he wanted to go to his hometown school of Louisville, and asked UCF for a release from his LOI.

However, UCF football coach George O’Leary has bitterly refused to allow Smith to back out of his LOI, an example of a lack of concern for anything beyond satisfying a desperate need to win at all costs. It is this attitude that leads many schools to unfairly treat student athletes like property.

LOIs are contractual obligations that require athletes who wish to back out of the agreement to sit out for a season and lose one of only four years of eligibility to play college sports before they can transfer – but that’s only if the school decides to grant the request and carry out the harsh punishment.

“But our decision is not to grant a release and I would never grant a release in any situation, really,” O’Leary said to the Orlando Sentinel, adding that he’s never released a player from his LOI for any reason during his coaching career.

O’Leary’s hard-line stance isn’t necessarily one that’s shared with other university leaders.

Earlier this month, Butch Davis, coach of the University of North Carolina’s football team, allowed five-star defensive lineman Delvon Simmons to back out of his LOI. The University of Maine allowed sophomore basketball guard Murphy Burnatowski to be released from his LOI earlier this month as well.

Many, including O’Leary, argue that releasing players from their LOIs will set a bad precedent and waste recruiting time and efforts, including scholarship offers.

But ironically, not allowing a player to be released from their LOI for any reason, as O’Leary does, could have an even worse affect on the recruiting process, as it shows the cold-blooded nature of a school’s coaching staff and leadership.

It’s highly unlikely that Smith will still play for UCF now, anyway.

O’Leary and other coaches who make the same decision when facing this situation understand this, but they would rather have the satisfaction of knowing they took revenge on the flip-flopping teenagers instead of allowing them to just continue with a normal collegiate sports career.

College coaches must think twice before punishing young athletes for changing their mind on something that will affect the rest of their lives, even if they can legally do so. They’re not just dealing with human property, but young adults who may make poor choices they later regret.