Trentyn Flowers has left Louisville in the lurch, as is his right.
He was a scholarship athlete untethered to an employment contract and, as such, free to leave on his own terms and his own timetable.
If he attracted NIL payments from donors eager to lock down a five-star recruit, let that be a lesson reflected in future fine print. But if Flowers perceives a better opportunity and a bigger payday in Australia with the Adelaide 36ers, who in the mercenary mess that is college athletics has the moral standing to stand in his way?
That multi-billion-dollar entertainment businesses have been grafted onto American universities has been a continuing challenge to academic standards, integrity and the presumed purpose of higher education. And never more than now.
In their dogged pursuit of television dollars, the leaders of esteemed institutions have wrecked long-standing rivalries, created conferences more gerrymandered than geographic and imposed increasingly onerous travel requirements on unsalaried students. If Flowers and other prominent athletes have chosen to seek out more attractive alternatives than their current circumstances, they are only imitating the actions of their elders.
In adding four West Coast universities to its math-phobic membership, the Big Ten Conference (soon to number 18 schools) has demonstrated a callous disregard for the time and welfare of its athletes. Only a long-term media rights agreement has prevented the Atlantic Coast Conference from having some of its highest-profile programs poached by more lucrative leagues.
“College sports are about more than money, and conference realignment has completely ignored that,” Oregon State professor Susan M. Shaw wrote in an essay published by Forbes magazine. “The NCAA has abdicated its responsibility to protect the rights of student-athletes, and university administrators have shown more concern for revenue than students, not to mention tradition, rivalries, alumni, and institutions like mine that could be negatively impacted by these realignments.”
Much as college coaches bemoan the newfound mobility of their players, their complaints about the NCAA’s transfer portal and dollar-dominated recruiting carry the noxious whiff of hypocrisy. College football coaches annually abandon their teams before bowl games rather than lose any time on the recruiting trail at their next stop. Bobby Petrino – remember him? – spent 21 days on the football staff at UNLV before he bolted for Texas A&M last January.
Granted, Flowers’ timing was terrible in leaving U of L a week before classes start, and he failed to cushion the blindside blow with a defiant, dad-centric interview on Jeff Lightsy Jr.’s 35KY Sports Show. Still, if the Australian offer arose relatively late, as Flowers and his father have said, it’s not always possible to schedule opportunity’s knock. Nor is it realistic to expect a teen-ager to pass up significant income (purportedly six-figures), the chance to test himself against more seasoned competition, and at his preferred position (point guard).
“This was the opportunity of a lifetime for me,” Flowers told Lightsy. “I feel like there’s only a certain type of window I got to make this decision, and that window was narrow. This was something where down the line I didn’t want to think ‘Man, I wish I should have took that opportunity.’ ”
Clearly, Flowers’ decision compromises Kenny Payne’s efforts to rebuild U of L from the rubble of a 4-28 season. You don’t find many players with Flowers’ pedigree still unattached this time of year. You won’t find any players on U of L’s roster as highly touted as the one who got away.
Welcome to college athletics, circa 2023, where everyone is looking for a better deal. The fortunate will find them.