Bret Bielema has figured out how to beat the system.
For the second-straight year, Wisconsin’s football coach hasn’t felt entirely comfortable with his quarterback situation, whether he’ll admit it or not.
For the second-straight year, Bielema has not only secured the services of a quarterback with starting experience in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but someone eligible to play immediately instead of sit out a year under normal NCAA transfer rules.
Last year it was Russell Wilson, who left North Carolina State after spending four years and playing three seasons there. Graduate student Wilson had a brilliant senior season for the Big Ten-champion Badgers.
Wednesday, Wisconsin announced quarterback Danny O’Brien is coming to Madison after starting 17 games for Maryland.
Wilson and O’Brien made use of an NCAA rule that allows players who have graduated to transfer and not to have to sit out a year, as long as they enroll in a graduate program. O’Brien will graduate this spring after three years at Maryland. He has two years of playing eligibility remaining.
Playing in a pro-style offense under Ralph Friedgen as a redshirt freshman, O’Brien passed for 2,438 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was the ACC Rookie of the Year.
Friedgen got fired and was replaced by Randy Edsall, who brought a spread offense with him. O’Brien threw for seven touchdowns and 10 INTs, and lost his starting job.
Wisconsin uses a pro-style offense. And it has those monster offensive linemen quarterbacks love to see. So after successfully wooing Wilson last year when Auburn wanted him, Wisconsin has persuaded O’Brien to join it instead of his other suitors, including Penn State.
College athletics aren’t supposed to have free agents, at least not after high school recruits sign their letters of intent. But this NCAA rule for graduate students — this kind of turns the game on its ear.
Many people oppose this rule. None have done so more vocally, perhaps, than Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan. In January, Ryan said this:
“It’s a terrible rule. It’s one of the worst rules I’ve ever seen.
“We’ve been contacted about players. I tell my assistants I’ve got absolutely no interest. But that’s just me. I’m not making a judgment on anybody else. In some cases I’m sure it’s done for all the right reasons. But I just think it’s because it’s out there, that now people are going to abuse it in other ways.”
To see Ryan’s full take, click here.
I’m wondering if Ryan and Bielema are ever at the same dinner parties.
“It’s creating free agency,” Ryan said, “creating conversations behind the backs of the institutions and the coaches, and his teammates.”
That word “free” always scares the daylights out of college coaches and administrators. But I think this rule is great. It says that if you take education seriously enough to graduate from college in four years or less and want to pursue a graduate program, you are free to choose your school and finish your athletic career there.
I don’t remember hearing Ryan complain about Tom Crean leaving Marquette’s players behind to coach at Indiana or Fran McCaffery leaving Siena’s players behind to coach at Iowa. Or Ryan leaving Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s players behind to coach at Wisconsin.
The one-and-dones and two-and-dones in college basketball who will be on full display to America this weekend at the Final Four? Coaches who ardently go after those players are the ones making a joke out of the “student-athlete” concept, not a coach who is recruiting a college graduate.
Good luck trying to win a national-championship without a couple of those one-and-dones and two-and-dones, by the way.
This rule Wilson, O’Brien and Wisconsin have embraced is empowering to those who take their educations seriously. If it causes an epidemic of college football players graduating in three or four years instead of five years or not at all, it wouldn’t be the NCAA’s scandal of the century.