I really hate to bury the lede here, but recapping the last few days surrounding the Pitt/Cameron Johnson/Jay Bilas fiasco is important from a contextual purpose. So if you’ve been following along already, please bear with me.
For the past few days, ESPN’s Jay Bilas has been highly critical of Pitt’s handling of the Cameron Johnson transfer situation. My stance was that, even if schools should not be able to place restrictions on transfers (and, for the record, I’m not so sure that’s a horrible thing, anyway, if we don’t want players jumping ship left and right … but that’s not the real issue here), it certainly wasn’t fair to call out a particular school for doing so since it is commonplace in college sports. Right now, this is probably happening in any number of transfer situations across the country.
Counting today, Bilas had made it his point to single Pitt out in a series of tweets spanning three days now. And while it’s true that he has called schools out before, my real issue was with calling anyone out unless you are willing to give each school the same amount of criticism every time it happens. Pitt hasn’t broken any rules and certainly shouldn’t be taken to task any more or less than others.
One of our readers here pointed out to me in this thread that Duke had done this very thing regarding quarterback Thomas Sirk, restricting his transfer options. I was grateful for that because, despite looking myself, I came up empty. I imagined that Duke had done this in the past and would be shocked if it was limited to this lone example. In summary, Sirk graduated from Duke and then was not allowed to play for ACC schools after he decided to transfer – the same thing Pitt is doing to Johnson.
Previously, Bilas had not mentioned this, which I thought was a bad look. Quite likely, it was because he was not aware of it since it wasn’t the sport he covered. I pointed it out in a tweet and a few others mentioned the situation/link directly to him after that. He basically ignored it until replying to Jim (yes, our Jim), who repeated it in a reply to Bilas. Bilas concluded that it was wrong as well.
While acknowledging it, I wasn’t thrilled with that response. A one-off reply that most people would not even see acknowledging his stance is simply not the same as the level of how he took Pitt to task in several tweets on the issue over a three-day period. So I was glad when Bilas upped his criticism of Duke, which he did on Tuesday.
I won’t post them all here, but on his Twitter account, Bilas heavily criticized Duke for the Sirk handling as well.
Frankly, it was great to see him take the same stance. My argument has never been with his opinion of how transfers should be treated. In some ways (probably not all, I imagine), I agree with him. The greater issue I had is how he was content to drag Pitt through the mud while the situation occurred everywhere – including at his Alma Mater.
Now that it’s over, though, what I want to see is Bilas focusing his efforts more on getting the NCAA to make its own rule regarding transfers in situations like this. Right or wrong, that’s where it needs to start. Bashing a school for taking advantage of the freedom they have with regards to kids transferring isn’t really the answer. Schools have been operating this way for years and while that doesn’t necessarily make it right, the idea to restrict players from jumping directly to their competition at least has some measure of logic to it. It seems unfair to crush schools for making a decision that, in essence, could help them win more games if transfers are not playing for teams on their schedule.
It would be one thing if this was a unique situation and only a few schools practiced it. It’s quite another when it is virtually commonplace across the board.
Again, though, I can see both sides of it. And my problem with Bilas’ handling of the situation had far less to do with his own personal opinion of how transfers should be treated and much more about singling Pitt out for this. I imagine that while Bilas was critical of Pitt for the Johnson situation that many other transfers across all sports in the works at the same time had similar restrictions by their schools.
I like Bilas and haven’t made any secret of that over the years. He gets a lot ‘right’ and generally has a good sense of how things work and should work. But those schools participating in the same practices were essentially let off the hook by Bilas, who understandably cannot keep up with every single one. But if it’s happening almost everywhere and you cannot reference each case, doling out criticism equally, it also isn’t fair to send out a PR hit on Pitt simply because it is a higher-profile example.
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