Aaron Moorehead is a 35-year-old man. He also happens to be the wide receivers coach at Texas A&M University, and his age is a relevant factor because last week on Twitter he utilized the recruiting decommitment of an 18-year-old quarterback to decry the dearth of loyalty and accountability among young people.
Tate Martell is that 18-year-old quarterback. He is a five-star prospect from Las Vegas, and this week Martell’s father claimed that new Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was the reason Martell wound up decommitting from A&M. Martell’s father said Mazzone largely ignored his son on recruiting visits, perhaps because he didn’t fit the mold of the kind of quarterback Mazzone prefers; for his part, Mazzone isn’t allowed to comment about recruits, so his side of the story is essentially unavailable at this point.
Whatever the case, this kind of thing happens all the time. Players commit and then change their mind and then sometimes change their minds again, and that is one of many reasons why Moorehead’s rant was yet another patently stupid and knee-jerk usage of social media by an adult human being who should have known better. On this, reasonable people seem to agree; even Moorehead himself, after attempting to defend his logic as directed at the Gen-Y universe at large rather than a single quarterback, wound up apologizing after two more A&M recruits decommitted in the wake of his tweets.
So it was a dumb move on multiple levels, and it could wind up sullying Moorehead’s coaching reputation – not to mention that of embattled Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin – but I think it was also symbolic of the moment we’re experiencing in college athletics. What Moorehead seemed to be trying to say amid his convoluted tweets was that players like Martell should not be afforded the freedom to change their minds. That they should accept their roles as cogs in the system, a system that has long been tilted in the favor of the adults rather than the young people who actually play the games. And like it or not, I don’t think the public tolerance for such an imbalanced playing field is as strong as it once was.
Here’s the truth: For a quarterback like Tate Martell, the recruiting process is one of the few elements of the college football experience over which he has ultimate control. Once he is in school – whatever school that may be – he’ll be subject to a regimented regime of practices and workouts and film sessions that will essentially last year-round. He may be shuttled into certain classes or certain majors that aren’t as demanding, so he can dedicated more of his time to football. If he becomes a star, he will not be compensated if the campus bookstore prints and sells his number on jerseys. He will get absolutely no cut of whatever his chosen university’s profits are. He will essentially be working a full-time job while also striving to get his degree, and he will do so because this is what coaches like Aaron Moorehead ask him to do.
And yes, I understand that football requires a serious level of commitment, but until the question of paying college athletes reaches a legal resolution, there should be a reasonable compromise on some of these things. In a recent NCAA survey on the time demands of student-athletes, 66 percent of football players said they wanted to limit their preseason practice time. Eleven percent of coaches agreed. A majority of players supported an in-season break from practice and competition; fewer than one in five coaches did. Three-quarters of coaches said they should dictate when players get time off out-of-season; a majority of athletes supported pausing the eligibility clock to study abroad or do internships, as opposed to one-third of coaches.
This is the way it’s been, historically. This, I imagine, was at least part of the motivation behind Moorehead’s rant. “Scared for this next group of kids,” Moorehead wrote. “There is no accountability and no sense of positivity when it comes to adversity. #selfish #allaboutme” But here’s the thing: For years – for decades, even – it was never about the players. And now that’s turning. And I imagine for coaches like Moorehead who appear to be wedded to old-fashioned logic, this evolution is what really scares the hell out of them.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb