Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
If you haven’t heard the news, UCLA football received a late—like, really late—addition to its 2013 recruiting class. Five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, out of Auburn (CA), enrolled at UCLA after signing a national letter of intent to head to South Bend, IN, to play for Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame outfit next season.
Of course, as the story goes, Vanderdoes wasn’t released from his NLI, and he’ll have to sit out a year and lose an entire season of eligibility, a bit of a pointless and harsh rule that could use some revision. (This author believes that forcing the kid to redshirt would be fair, but what does he know?)
The alternative scenario involves Vanderdoes being released from his NLI, which makes him eligible to compete immediately, while preserving a fourth year of eligibility.
So why did Notre Dame elect to force Vanderdoes to sit out a year?
Well, one prominent explanation being thrown around is the intention to preserve the integrity of the NLI. In other words, Notre Dame didn’t want to be the first school to release a five-star recruit from his national letter of intent—a binding contract between the player and the school—and set a precedent that would imply recruits wouldn’t actually be committed to their schools until they were officially enrolled.
The other explanation, and one being used by UCLA fans in particular? Notre Dame is sour. They’re ticked that Vanderdoes—whose recruitment was filled with uncertainty, indecisiveness, and fierce competition among schools—went back on his commitment, and they’re making the kid pay for his transgression.
Notre Dame fans also subscribe to this latter explanation. Indeed, the keyboard warriors lurking around message boards, pretending like they even went to school at an above-average university like Notre Dame, believe the school and Brian Kelly were right to exact revenge on the high schooler, and were right to seriously limit his life chances. Notre Dame fans—who like to tout their academic prestige despite the fact that no one outside of the United States even knows they exist—whine and moan like children, desperate to lash out on someone 20 years younger, just because they expected a fresh-faced 18-year-old to follow through on a four-year (some would say 40-year) commitment.
Of course, it’s possible that was going through Brian Kelly’s head at the moment, but it’s important to note that coaches don’t necessarily think like fans. Perhaps this decision was meant to curtail any future defections post-NLI, not just for Notre Dame, but for college football programs in general. Perhaps Kelly would’ve liked to let Vanderdoes off the hook, but perhaps his program received far too many phone calls from other coaches, pleading him to punish Vanderdoes. Perhaps the pressure was insurmountable, and perhaps Kelly caved.
Or maybe Brian Kelly grew frustrated with the defections his Notre Dame squad has already had to deal with. Perhaps the losses of quarterbacks Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel (the former due to academic issues, the latter due to the recruiting game) got to Kelly. Perhaps four transfers from a solid 2012 recruiting class has enervated the football coach, and perhaps the only way he can have a false sense of control is to control the fate of an innocent, conflicted 18-year-old kid. Perhaps this is a power move, and perhaps Kelly is compensating for something else.
It’s all speculation from here. With news that Vanderdoes is leaving to be closer to his sick grandmother, the ball is back in Notre Dame’s court to appeal the decision and let Vanderdoes go freely. As you’d imagine, some Notre Dame fans—the classless, state school graduates that they likely are—have begun to cry foul, that Vanderdoes is now just faking the news that his grandmother is deathly ill. (Irony is hilarious, isn’t it?) Will Notre Dame adopt the mindset of its needling, abrasive, crass fan-base?
No one knows, but you can be sure the question posed here—whether Notre Dame forced Vanderdoes to sit a year because they’re sour—will be answered depending upon their response to the appeal.