Yeah, the optics surrounding this ain’t pretty.
Ryan Dickens beamed for the crowd Sunday night, his mind racing over all he had accomplished and the future he was ready to tackle.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior linebacker from Raritan High School had just been honored with a 2016 Mini Max Award for his football excellence, strong academics and devotion to community service, which includes roles in teen suicide prevention, breast cancer awareness and fundraisers for families in crisis.
Dickens also had his most important decision locked up, having verbally committed seven months earlier to accept a scholarship offer to play football for the University of Connecticut. He wore UConn T-shirts to school, chatted in group text messages with other UConn recruits and had already planned to major in business. Now, he was only 17 days from signing his name to a National Letter of Intent and making his dreams official.
Or so he thought.
Dickens’ cell phone rang while he and his parents, Matt and Patti, were still in the parking lot of the awards banquet in Princeton Junction Sunday night. UConn coach Randy Edsall was on the other end. Ryan Dickens excitedly answered the phone, but in an instant his world was shattered.
Edsall was calling to tell Dickens the unthinkable: The school no longer had a scholarship for him.
“And the next thing you hear is Ryan’s like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’” Patti Dickens said. “And then he put the phone on speaker and Edsall said, ‘No, Ry, we just decided we’re going to go in another direction. We don’t have a spot for you.’”
The timing certainly makes it something of a dick move and I’ve never been a big fan of Randy Edsall, but I can’t say I’m totally unsympathetic to his decision to pull the scholarship offer. Diaco was fired because UConn performed poorly; if you’re hired to improve upon that, it’s hard not to start by taking a close look at what the last guy left you with and evaluate what your best options are. Being bound by the promises of a coach who didn’t win isn’t what they’re paying you for.
And it’s how the recruiting rules are set up, which is why there’s resistance among coaches to early signing dates. Anything that lets a kid bind a school a minute earlier than a coach prefers represents a threat to the current order of things that coaches control. Having the freedom to pull offers until the last minute, along with raiding your old school’s commitment list the second after you take a new job, are features, not bugs.
An early signing date won’t have much impact on the elite prospects, but it should make for some interesting changes in what coaches tell the lower-tiered kids like Dickens. My bet is Randy Edsall won’t be too happy about that.