I don’t know Joey Nebeker. Never spoke to him. Short of glancing at the Boise State basketball media guide from last season, I wouldn’t have a clue what he looks like. He might as well be Joey Logano without the racecar.
But this much is true: He received a raw deal.
He isn’t the first. He won’t be the last.
Doesn’t make it right.
Nebeker was a redshirt freshman forward for the Broncos who played in 10 games and averaged just 2.8 minutes.
By those numbers, he barely reached reserve status.
But he was an Idaho kid from the small town of Melba who when signing with the Broncos dreamed of leading the program to great heights. His state. His program.
Then his coach, Leon Rice, called him in for a chat a few weeks ago.
“He informed me that he’s going to cut me because he doesn’t think I’m good enough to play at this level,” Nebeker told the Idaho Press-Tribune. “Basically, that’s the reason he gave me. I was shocked. … We had meetings, and we talked about expectations, and (Rice) said I could be a leader on the team. To me, that spoke that I would be here next year. Being cut never crossed my mind.”
The above story isn’t meant to be an indictment solely of Boise State, not when such a practice is performed annually at campuses across the country and in far more sports than just basketball.
Recruiting over an athlete by cutting him to open up scholarships for more talented players is as much part of college athletics as the massive egos of its coaches.
It’s a practice as old as Nick Saban’s constipated scowl.
But for all the negative arrows slung at the NCAA recently, most warranted to hit president Mark Emmert’s office straight in the heart for its dubious actions, a piece of legislation adopted in 2011 has gone primarily unnoticed due to the refusal of most programs to support it or even make recruits aware of it.
To suggest schools have been slow to offer multiyear athletic scholarships is to suggest a few folks might be interested in where Johnny Manziel falls in tonight’s NFL Draft.
There has existed for some time now an ability for universities to guarantee an athlete’s education beyond one year, assuming the young person remains academically eligible and doesn’t violate NCAA or school rules and doesn’t break the law and doesn’t in any way become a real creep.
That’s right. Those at Division I schools can offer four-year grants.
Most, however, have chosen to remain with the old guard of offering one-year scholarships that are renewable on an annual basis. UNLV falls into this camp. Most do.
I understand that side of the coin. College sports is a big business with billions of dollars over the entire landscape. Careers of coaches and administrators and sometimes university presidents are decided by wins and losses. It’s a cutthroat, a dog-eat-dog existence of nothing but pit bulls and rottweilers.
Also, never underestimate how much coaches enjoy power and fear anything that might decrease theirs when it comes to the particular program they run. The last thing a coach wants is for that disingenuous message they provide families with about looking after and caring for a young man or woman for the next four years (only to own the capacity to cut them after one) to be muddled with facts about an ability to offer longer deals.
But a report in the The Chronicle of Higher Education from April 2013 reached an upsetting and yet predictable conclusion, that not only are few schools offering multiyear scholarships, but the market itself rarely makes recruits and their families and high school coaches aware they exist.
Schools merely keep the legislation a secret, obviously fearful of a young athlete trying to negotiate for a multiyear scholarship during the recruiting process. It’s that part about power again.
God forbid schools actually do something that suggests they are committed to developing young men and women as more than athletes, that they are devoted to the idea of supporting a student athlete’s education for four years more than they are in having the option to cut a kid loose based on how he or she performs on a field or court.
But it’s not going to change any time soon. It would be nice for others to follow the lead of Mountain West member Fresno State, which offers four-year scholarships to all incoming athletes. Good for the Bulldogs. Good for Illinois and Purdue and Ohio State and Iowa and North Carolina State and Michigan State, all schools that have offered multiyear scholarships at a significant level since the legislation passed.
But that’s the minority. Most schools still lock the idea of offering multiyear scholarships away with the panic of perhaps missing on a specific recruit’s ability and not having the option to rid themselves of the player with the idea of signing someone bigger, faster, stronger, better.
“I feel a little cheated,” Nebeker told the Press-Tribune. “I didn’t get the opportunity I deserved and was promised.”
A story as old as Saban’s scowl.
Joey Nebeker isn’t the first. He won’t be the last.
Doesn’t make it right.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.