On the same day that NCAA president Mark Emmert told a crowd at the Knight Commission that allowing schools to dictate a college athlete’s ability to transfer “never made any sense” to him, the NCAA denied N.C. State guard Braxton Beverly’s appeal to play for the 2017 season. Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts criticized the decision in a statement released to ESPN, saying he was “disappointed” and Beverly was “devastated.”
“Disappointed would be an understatement for how I feel for Braxton, he’s devastated,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “This is a situation where adults failed a young man and he’s the one paying the price.”
Beverly was part of the instantly infamous Ohio State Class of 2017, a ragtag bunch put together so shoddily by Thad Matta and his assistants that it ultimately cost Matta his job and kept the Buckeyes from even a spot in the NIT. Citing the recruiting failures and a bad back, Ohio State let Matta walk in June, long too late for incoming Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann to salvage the recruiting class or, most likely, the upcoming season. Seeing that his first two years (at minimum) would be spent as a part of a rebuilding project, Beverly asked Holtmann for an immediate release, which the former Butler coach, in conjunction with the Ohio State administration, granted him.
The issue for Beverly was that he enrolled in summer classes at Ohio State, a practice encouraged by coaches of their prized men’s and women’s college basketball recruits as a way to get a head start with their new teams. It’s a common enough practice, and top-tier high school football players that have committed to a university either in their junior year or senior fall often similarly graduate from high school in the winter in order to enroll at college in the spring and take part in spring practice.
Due to the NCAA’s outdated transfer rules, even though Beverly did not once suit up for the Buckeyes in an official contest, the mere fact that he had enrolled in some summer classes at another university, likely at Thad Matta’s request, was enough to rule him ineligible for the upcoming season when he transferred to N.C. State. The officiousness of this looks even worse when compared to Wolfpack rival UNC-Chapel Hill’s legal destruction of the NCAA’s “student-athlete” facade. At UNC, you have a school ducking all consequences for fake classes through a hilarious loophole; at N.C. State you have a college athlete being held out of play specifically because he took legitimate ones, just at another school.
The NCAA will receive the brunt of the N.C. State fanbase’s ire in the wake of this decision, and they deserve it. After all, it’s the NCAA’s rules—rules voted on and approved by presidents and athletic directors at member schools like N.C. State and UNC—that yet again left a member school forcing a player into an unavoidable corner. But while the inclination to channel all that hate toward the NCAA is clearly healthy and righteous, some of that anger should also be reserved for the Ohio State administration and their old coach.
Whether they will cop to it or not, the Buckeyes brass knew Matta’s days were numbered the moment they saw both him and his last Buckeyes team on the court. They knew full well that Matta’s recruiting record was going to keep looking like shit and that, had he been kept on, his 2017 team would be fully relying on a freshman point guard and the one (1) returning player that averaged double-digits in scoring. And yet, despite all this—the 17-15 record, the two years of missing postseason play, and the disheartening and diminishing recruiting returns—for reasons of misguided loyalty and mismanagement, Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith and the other decision-makers still waited until June to cut Matta loose. (In order to avoid any contract buyout issues, it was technically a resignation, but we can call it what it is.)
That move was immediately criticized, not on the merits or for the result but for its terrible timing. Smith is paid $1.98 million per year by Ohio State to manage the athletic department and its coaching staff, to hire and fire big-name coaches at the proper time, and, of course, to make the Buckeyes brand as profitable as possible. That is the man’s job, and it’s virtually impossible to call Matta’s June resignation anything but a direct failure on Smith’s part in doing that job.
By the time the calendar turns to June in the college basketball recruiting process, most schools have their rosters and recruits locked in; by letting Matta go in June, Smith subsequently fucked Holtmann out of any hope he had of being able to craft his own roster. The majority of Big-Ten-worthy recruits had long since been snapped up, forcing the new coach to either rely on a returning roster that produced just 17 wins last season and then wait until next year to pursue his chosen recruits, or sign some of the remaining JuCo transfers to make up for it in the short term.
More importantly, Smith also fucked every single incoming freshman or transfer on the Buckeyes roster, all of whom are good enough players that they spurned other offers to come play at Ohio State, under Thad Matta. Despite his program’s recent woes, playing under Matta doubtless meant something to those kids, if only because of Matta’s solid track record of placing players in the NBA.
Blame also partially rests with Matta, especially if he had any inkling that his job was at risk sooner than he publicly let on. Remember, Matta dismissed a report on his ailing back from Yahoo’s Pat Forde in March, telling reporters he felt fine; at his final press conference, he admitted to having to take pills and shots ahead of games just to walk the sideline. Even if he kept the news out of the media for personal reasons, Matta didn’t alert Braxton Beverly and the other incoming Buckeyes to the possibility that the 2016-17 season might be his last.
Smith also made abundantly clear that the longstanding recruiting issues—the school has landed exactly zero top-40 recruits in the last four years—tied with those back problems, were Matta’s ultimate undoing. Some high school recruits took note of this even before the axe dropped—Darius Bazley told the Columbus Dispatch in Aprilthat he de-committed after noting that he “looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future.”
The easy response to that is to say that if Bazley could identify the Buckeyes’ problems and make his move, then Beverly should have, too. That’s an oversimplification, though. College recruiting, despite the innumerable rules regarding when and who and how coaches can text and talk with recruits, is ultimately a free-for-all. Coaches can make innumerable unfulfillable promises and never be legally held to those words. Beverly had virtually no right to advocate for his own interests either during the signing process or in front of the NCAA appeals board. This was another failure by the NCAA to put athletes, not the schools that make the money, first. In related news, it’s still damn-near heresy to mention the words “college athlete” in the same sentence as “agent” or “players’ union”
Between the NCAA’s ingrained distaste for serving athletes and Ohio State’s full-spectrum ineptitude, Beverly was ultimately left with two bad options. He could stick around for the inevitable mess that will be the 2017-18 Ohio State men’s basketball team in hopes that he might have some individual success and help the team sneak into the NIT, or he could transfer to a more promising situation and pray the NCAA would be reasonable about it. If you’re familiar with this year’s other shitty college transfer stories, you already knew how Braxton Beverly’s story was going to end. “Adults failed a young man,” Keatts said after the NCAA announced its ruling, “and he’s the one paying the price.”