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April 16, 2008

Does the LOI system need to be tweaked?

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Terrell Holloway considered it an insurance policy he never expected to use.

Holloway, a four-star guard prospect from Cincinnati, signed a letter-of-intent last fall to play basketball at Indiana. The school agreed to free him if Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson left or the school received a postseason tournament ban before he arrived on campus.

"Truthfully, it didn't make a big difference because going into the situation, I would have thought Coach Sampson would be part of the team when I got there," Holloway said.

Sampson isn't there anymore. Holloway consequently won't be there, either.

Holloway, a 6-foot, 175-pounder from Cincinnati's Harmony Community School, capitalized on that agreement to get out of his commitment to Indiana after Sampson was forced to resign in February. Last week, Holloway announced he will play at Xavier next season.

Not every recruit has that kind of guarantee.

Colleges are permitted to make oral promises that they will release a recruit from his commitment in the case of a coaching change. If a player doesn't receive that oral agreement, he is bound to his letter-of-intent even if the coach is fired or moves to another school.

At least one prominent high school coach would like to see the system changed so that a prospect can reopen his recruiting process if he signs with a school that experiences a coaching change after he's signed his LOI.

"We have a minor entering into a contract with a university based on the influence the coach had over this child to make him decide to sign with this school over somewhere else," said Bob Hurley, who has produced more than 125 Division I prospects while coaching more than three decades at St. Anthony in Jersey City, N.J. "A very persuasive adult with a basketball reputation convinced this minor to enter a contract because of all the things he's going to do for him. Then the coach goes to another situation, and now you're going to have another person coach the kid who (the recruit) doesn't even know."

The issue currently is affecting one of Hurley's star players. St. Anthony point guard Tyshawn Taylor signed with Marquette last fall under the assumption he'd be playing for Tom Crean. But Crean since has replaced Sampson at Indiana, and Taylor might not have the freedom to go elsewhere.

Hurley said Taylor plans to apply for a release from his LOI, though the three-star prospect still plans to consider Marquette. If the school doesn't grant his release, NCAA regulations stipulate that Taylor would lose a year of eligibility if he doesn't attend Marquette.

"I don't begrudge Tom Crean or anyone else leaving to take another job," Hurley said. "That's part of the world they're in. What drives me crazy is the child is held to the contract they've entered."

Taylor has reason to believe Marquette will honor his request since the school already granted a release to Nick Williams, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard who also signed with the Golden Eagles last fall.

In fact, a growing number of signees have received releases that have allowed them to look elsewhere after coaching changes. For example, this year's Sweet 16 included two former Oklahoma recruits Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and Texas' Damion James who were released from their LOIs after Indiana hired Sampson away from the Sooners.

That trend was pointed out by National Association of Basketball Coaches executive director Jim Haney when he was asked about potential changes to the national letter-of-intent process.

"The Collegiate Commissioners Association, which administers the national letter-of-intent, has basically been granting appeals for such circumstances," Haney said.

But that isn't always the case.

Hurley realizes that because one of his former players has been burned by this process. Ajmal Basit signed with Massachusetts because he wanted to play for John Calipari, who took the New Jersey Nets' coaching job before Basit ever arrived on campus. Basit didn't receive a release from UMass and spent three years there before transferring to Delaware. Hurley said Basit was miserable during that three-year stretch at UMass.

"To this day, I'm not really comfortable with how it was handled by UMass, even though that staff is gone," Hurley said. "What do you do? You don't know whether to hold the coaches accountable, but they're gone. So you hold the school accountable. It's been 12 years and I'm still annoyed. Do I blame UMass? Do I blame Calipari? Or do I blame the system? I guess you blame the system."

Basit's case came more than a decade ago, but Tyler Smith provides more recent evidence that players aren't always granted their freedom when they've signed with schools that change coaches. Smith signed to play for Tennessee out of high school in Pulaski, Tenn., but he changed his mind after the Vols fired coach Buzz Peterson in the spring of 2005. Smith's request for a release was denied by Bruce Pearl, who had replaced Peterson. Smith then failed to qualify academically, spent a year at Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy and played one season at Iowa before coming full circle by transferring to Tennessee.

The only way to avoid the type of problem Basit and Smith encountered would be to delay a college decision until the April signing period after most coaching changes have been made but that move comes with its own complications.

"For a while, I wouldn't have kids sign early, but if they're not signing in November, schools could wind up signing other kids," Hurley said. "If the situation is right, I want them to commit early."

Although the letter-of-intent system may be flawed, Haney pointed out that it has its benefits. Haney noted that it frees the student-athlete from distractions because the recruiting process ends once he has signed.

"But everyone must be sensitive to the welfare of the student-athlete and the fact that his decision to attend a particular college or university may largely be based on the coach he would be playing for," Haney said. "Ultimately, if there is a coaching change, the new coach would hopefully have an opportunity to speak with the student-athletes who have already signed (the LOI) before any decisions are finalized."

Hurley doesn't expect changes to be made to the process anytime soon because he figures nobody wants to rock the boat at a time when college basketball is thriving. But that hasn't stopped him from asking that prospects receive more rights in the college selection process, even if it means inserting a clause in the letter-of-intent that allows student-athletes to look elsewhere when they've signed with a school that experiences a coaching change.

"Maybe we have to get an addendum to it," Hurley said. "I can't believe we're getting to that point, but it's necessary."

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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