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UConn's Edsall has powerful, poignant words about a system that is broken

Storrs — Randy Edsall has answered countless questions behind the same podium in his days coaching football at UConn. But never was he more pointed, poignant and profound than during Friday morning's 30-minute soliloquy about the esoteric and shortsighted rules that govern college football, the game's betrayal of its participants, cheating coaches and the folly of the term "student-athlete."

It was transcribed into somewhere around 2,000 words, among the most important ever spoken by a college football coach. Every high school kid, parent and coach; every college football player, coach and administrator and anyone else who has an affinity for the game would do well to read and listen.

It began with a tweet from Edsall earlier this week about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of NCAA bylaw, which states, "Prohibited Practice Activities: A prospective student-athlete shall not engage in any practice activities that is closed to the general public (e.g., review of playbook, chalk talk, film review) with a coaching staff member prior to his or her enrollment."

Hence, as spring practice begins Monday for the Huskies, all players who have signed letters of intent to play here cannot sit in a meeting unless the meetings are open to the public.

Imagine: Five-star recruit Joe Smith is coming to UConn. He'll be at spring practice Monday. And he shows up to a meeting with his coaches, only to see that Boston College coach Steve Addazio — because the meeting is open to the public — has brought coffee and donuts, deciding to sit in and take notes.

(You can't make this stuff up.)

"One of the dumbest rules I've ever heard in my life," Edsall said. "They allow you to offer these kids scholarships in seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th grade. They can come to your campus and sit in on those meetings ... now you sign them and they come for spring practice and if the meetings aren't open to the public, they can't sit in. If you're a kid, how would you feel to be treated like that?

"To be compliant, I tweeted to say it was open to the public because we have young men coming in. Since it's open, we could probably have all 12 of our opponents sit in on our meetings."

Edsall wasn't done. The following are his musings on other warts within the college football system.

• Why players should be paid:

"I started in Syracuse in 1976 as a player," Edsall said. "The scholarship covered room, board, books, tuition and fees. We played 10 games. We were done the week before Thanksgiving. I got a chance to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I didn't have to be at school all summer. I went home and worked out on my own.

"I got into the coaching profession in 1980. We've gone from 10 games to 11, 12, to conference championships and more. Up until a couple of years ago, the scholarship was still room, board, books, tuition and fees. Nothing's changed for the people playing the game. So now when you see all the money being made by conferences and distributed to universities, none of that has really gone to the players.  I have an issue with that. They're the ones playing.

"Coaches are making $7 million a year and the kids don't get anything. I know they have 'cost of attendance' (a nominal stipend above the scholarship) but that doesn't cover the summer time when they're (on campus). Things have changed.

"When you start offering kids scholarships in eighth grade, don't talk to me about amateurism. Universities and the NCAA shouldn't talk about 'student-athletes.' It isn't a 'student-athlete' anymore. You're talking about an athlete. You don't have the information needed to offer a kid a scholarship in the eighth, ninth, 10th grade. You don't have enough academic information to do that. Conferences, universities, everybody's at fault. We need to take a step back and make it right. It's not right. Things have changed. The system is broke."

• On why it's important to understand the NCAA is not a nameless, faceless bureaucracy, but a compilation if its member schools:

"The institutions make up the membership of the NCAA and have the voting rights to what is passed and what's not. It's difficult to have people in those positions not focusing on those things 24/7/365. It's hard. They've got their own things going on in their own institutions. ... All I'm saying is get back to doing what's right. Kids should be able to share in the money because of the demands we've placed on them."

• On official visits, nonsensical rules and poor, poor high school coaches:

"They've put the rule in where kids can take official visits in (early) April. You don't have a six-semester (three years' worth of grades) transcript to look at. Kids are scrambling just to get PSAT or SATs in so they can visit. Then we have an official evaluation period in football from April 15 to the end of May.

"We bring a kid in the first weekend in April. But later, when we go to that school in April and May, we can't talk to that kid, even though we just had him on an official visit. Why do we have to push up the time to bring these kids in on official visits when we don't even have all the academic information on them?

"I spoke (Thursday) night to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association. I told them I'm sorry we've done what we've done. This day and age to be a high school coach is very difficult. They're dealing with kids and parents who have offers in ninth and 10th grade. That's got to be hard to coach."

• I asked Edsall that, aside from the noble concept of doing what's right for the sake of what's right, what's the benefit of following the rules anymore?

"So you can look yourself in the mirror and you can sleep well at night," he said. "I sleep great at night. It's who you are. Who you want to be. If you can't demand that of yourself, how can you go in front of kids? You're supposed to be a coach, a teacher, a mentor and a parent to them. How can you tell them anything if you're not doing it the right way?

"Maybe I'm screwed up. But that's the way I look at what I do. I'm the coach, teacher, mentor and a parent. It's about your own integrity. And wanting to be the best person you can be. I'm not going to back down from that.

"Trust me. I'm not perfect by any means. But by God, I'm going to do what's right for these kids. It's all I've ever tried to do. Parent, teacher, coach, mentor. If you're not in it — and you have to win, I get that — but if you're not in it to give young men better opportunities than they think they can have for themselves, you shouldn't be coaching. Your priorities are out of line."

• And finally ...

"It's gotten to me," he said. "It's been going that way. You don't see anyone trying to do anything to reverse it. It's frustrating. And in my mind, it's wrong. I'm just trying to stand up for what I believe is right as someone who has experienced it as a player and a coach. ... Everybody's always looking for an edge, instead of doing what's right.

"We're talking 17-21 year-old young men. Something where less than one percent go on to continue their football career after college. The more you win, the more money comes in, sure. But what is the mission statement of universities? Look at the Ivy League. Maybe it's changed a little. But they still play 10 games. No playoffs. That's amateurism. (Everything else has) gone to a professional model now. Semi-professional guys for the most part. If that's what you want, change the rules. Don't keep the same and take advantage of these young men."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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