Let her go

Kansas State is one of my favorite schools. I am required by law to say this because my wife attended Kansas State; so did my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, some of my best friends and Darren Sproles. But it would be true anyway. I like Kansas State a lot because the place has this wonderful spirit, something I noticed the very first time I went there some 20 years ago. It’s not easy to get to, the weather is pretty lousy and there isn’t an overabundance of things to do in Manhattan, Kan. But the place has heart. It has a wonderful togetherness. It is a destination for the dreamers from those small Kansas towns like my wife’s Cuba, Kansas.

And Bill Snyder has pulled off the greatest turnaround in college football history, not once but twice.

It is in that spirit I tell you: I have absolutely no idea what Kansas State is doing in this bizarre Leticia Romero case.

You may have read my friend Mechelle Voepel’s story and follow-up commentary on the Romero story … I’ll try to sum up. Romero is a talented freshman basketball player who came to Kansas State from the Canary Islands. For the record, I just looked up Google Images of the Canary Islands — this came up:

wpid-w_ca_2007_01_gallery-2014-05-24-14-53.jpg

I looked up Google Images of Manhattan, Kansas. This came up.

wpid-Downtown_Manhattan_Kansas-2014-05-24-14-53.jpg

Romero came to Kansas State because she she felt comfortable with the coaching staff. It is almost always this way for college athletes. The coach (and assistant coaches) is the person who represents the school — it’s not the president or athletic director or dean of students. Most people probably agree that it is ridiculous how much college coaches get paid, but they are basically CEOs of their teams. They are entirely responsible not only for developing players and strategically using them to win games (and for marketing, fund-raising, construction) … they are also responsible for actually recruiting the players in the first place. Everybody knows this. There is a con that the NCAA likes to use when trumping their inane transfer policies: “A player does not sign with the coach. A player signs with the school.” That look good on a billboard. But they KNOW it isn’t true. When John Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky, the best players followed him … not because of their sudden love for country ham or the William T. Young library.

Anyway, Romero signed with Kansas State, and she proved to be a very good player her freshman year. She led the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. That was good for her but, generally speaking, when you have a freshman lead your team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals you are probably not going to be a very good team. Kansas State was not. They finished 11-19, their worst record since coach Deb Patterson took over the program back in 1996. I always liked Deb … she moved to Kansas the same time I did, and she’s a passionate all-around sports fan, and she made women’s basketball matter at Kansas State by recruiting a bunch of small-town Kansas kids who could really play. But the team has been scuffling for a while. At the end of the season, Kansas State fired her.

At this point, the story deteriorates into a lot of he-said-she-said-they-said-we-said. The basic story is this: Romero decided she wanted to transfer and Kansas State denied her request. Mechelle has delved pretty deeply into the two sides on this — Romero says she tried to feel comfortable with the new staff but (though she doesn’t blame them) it just didn’t feel like a match to her. Kansas State, via athletic director John Currie’s Twitter account, had concerns that involved: “outside tampering, undue influence by third parties or procedures not being followed in an honest and forthright manner.” Kansas State isn’t talking beyond that.

Best I can tell — and I’m guessing a little bit here — Romero got caught in the middle of a somewhat nasty break-up between Kansas State and Deb Patterson. There have been people at Kansas State who have told me there’s “more to the story,” but I’m skeptical because, (1) they won’t tell me what “more” there is to the story; (2) people always seem to have some super-secretive “more to the story” when they start to look bad; (3) I simply don’t see what more there could be that would change these basic facts:

A. Leticia Romero is an 18-year-old kid from the Canary Islands who came to play basketball for Kansas State, a school she chose over numerous others.
B. She felt comfortable with the coaching staff and played her heart out for a lousy team in a small Kansas town some 4,500 miles from home.
C. The coaching staff was fired.
D. She wanted to leave and take one of the many, many scholarship offers that are out there for her.
E. The school said no, even while admitting that saying no to such a simple request was “rare.”

Everything else — how she handled her transfer request, what her motivations might or might not be, the language gap, what secrets Kansas State holds, how involved the former staff was in convincing her to leave — is speculation and, anyway, entirely beside the point. Look, I’ll come clean here: I don’t even think Kansas State SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT to deny Leticia Romero free movement. There’s a lot of talk these days about college athletes being indentured servants … the NCAA transfer rules fit the description. Why should Kansas State have the right to prevent her from transferring to another school that wants to give her a scholarship? Is it because of how much they are paying her? Oh yeah, they’re not paying here. Is it because a scholarship is a binding contract? No, not quite since scholarships go year-to-year and the school can take them away at more or less any time for any cockamamie reason. Is it because Kansas State has worked so hard to make her comfortable that she owes them? No, not even that — they just fired the whole coaching staff that convinced her to leave Picture A above for Picture B above.

She played a year. She played well. She gave it a shot. She wants to leave and take a different scholarship. It is utterly un-American that Kansas State even has the power to stop her.

But they do have the power. And the fact they are yielding it is even worse. The reason I have long loved Kansas State is for that spirit I mentioned, that togetherness, that sense that school stands for something a little bit bigger. What possible reasoning could Currie and company have for treating a young athlete like this? Maybe you’re not happy she wants to leave. Maybe you feel like the previous staff poisoned her mind. Maybe you feel like she shouldn’t have gone to the press in desperation. What does any of that matter? She’s 19 (or will be in a few days), she came from the beaches to play for you, she played well and sparked interest in the program, she doesn’t feel comfortable there anymore. Let her go. How is this even a question? Let her go.

My guess is that Kansas State didn’t intend for it go this far. My guess is that when she first told the school she wanted to leave, Currie denied the request because he thought there was tampering from the previous staff involved and he fully expected her to change her mind. But then Romero made it clear, no, she really wanted to leave. At this point, Kansas State wasn’t going to keep her no matter what. They had two options: Make it easier on her to transfer or make it miserable for her to transfer.

So, they miserably chose Option B, sent her case into the red tape pipeline where Romero had to officially appeal. She is still learning English, she didn’t really understand the appeal process (which sounds kind of star chamberish anyway), her appeal was denied, she panicked and started looking for ways out (including talking to the press and hiring a lawyer). The school panicked as it became public. And then the whole thing just got stupid.

And that’s where it is now: Stupidville. No other word even can describe the sheer stupidity involved.

On Wednesday, Kansas State announced it could not give Romero her transfer even though now, apparently, John Currie is for it. Currie supposedly wrote a letter to the appeals committee asking them to reconsider. This is just plain stupid because Currie is the one who denied her request in the first place; he’s the only reason it even WENT to an appeals process. He’s the bleeping athletic director. He can’t give her the release now that he realizes he messed up? What?

But it gets even more stupid: Apparently at some point, someone at the school asked her for a list of schools and they would tell her which schools they would release her to. She gave them a list of 100 schools. ONE HUNDRED. Kansas State, she says, denied them all.

But then it gets even MORE stupid. Look at this: Because of a clerical error, Kansas State mistakenly gave Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro permission to contact Romero. Yes: A clerical error. Kansas State attempted to retract permission but the NCAA said, “Uh, no, you can’t do that.” It’s pretty astonishing when the NCAA with all its corruption in leadership actually says, “No, even we won’t go that far.” There is a thought now that Romero will visit Murfreesboro. Nobody knows if Kansas State would actually let her go.

Here, for the record, is a Google image of Murfreesboro. It could be Manhattan.

wpid-Murfreesboro_Tennessee-Downtown_murfreesboro9741-2014-05-24-14-53.jpg

It’s a clown act. And it is so unnecessary. It’s so unlike what Kansas State is supposed to be. My wife Margo talks about growing up in little Cuba Kansas, population 250, with its annual Rock-A-Thon (where people rock in rocking chairs) to raise money for city improvement and the little school with the new gym (since closed) and the Cuba Cash Store for a few groceries when you couldn’t make the long drive to Belleville or Concordia … and she talks about how Kansas State meant the world to her. It meant something more than just a college to her. She had a purple car when we met … because of Kansas State. That was the place that allowed her to dream big.

“Why won’t they just let her go?” Margo asked me after reading Michelle’s stories. There’s just no good answer for that. And I have to tell you: If Kansas State loses Margo, they’ve pretty much lost everything.

56 thoughts on “Let her go

  1. 18thstreet

    I hate college sports, so no one has ‘lost’ me. The lawsuit that ends this horrid cartel cannot come fast enough.

    Reply
  2. Josiah

    Joe, I appreciate the sentiment, and to some degree agree with you, but there is something that gives me pause. They let Daniel Sams go, with almost 0 problems. If they let an impact football player go that easily, but are being so hesitant with a women’s basketball player, it tells me something else is afoot. Daniel Sams is approximately *infinitely* more valuable to KSU. Yet the continual automatic assumption is that KSU is just being petty for the sake of being petty.

    Reply
    1. jposnanski Post author

      Fair point … but it seems to me the Sams transfer was an entirely different story. That was under the watchful eye of Bill Snyder; there was no previous regime or complications involved. I think the initial decision with Romero was perhaps influenced by a real concern about tampering. I think the next steps were influenced by red tape. And then there was a sprinkling of pettiness. Now I think they won’t just step back and do the right thing because it has gone so far down the road.

      Reply
    2. Scott Lucas

      Part of the argument is that even if “something else is afoot”, what difference does it make? She came to play for the coach who recruited her, that coach is gone. Even if she just didn’t like the weather, she should be free to go. Any other college kid who decides to change schools, even if on scholarship, is not abused the way athletes are. Even if you believe her former coaches swayed her opinion, K State is still being petty. They know she won’t play for them, so their only intent can be to harm her. They gain absolutely nothing from this except revenge. How can that be anything but petty?

      Reply
  3. Crout

    This ridiculous theatre screams one word: lawyers. I’m not an expert, don’t know diddly about why, but I guarantee you that at some meeting the specter of liability was brought up and the decision was made to go ahead and screw with this poor kid’s life. Shame on them.

    Reply
    1. Tom Rigid

      It’s almost never “lawyers” but a lack of legal advice which gets employers (and that’s what K-State is here, of course) into trouble. A company the size of the university would do what their lawyers told them to do from the beginning, but this is a weird space: a school, a student, and if you’re talking to lawyers you’re admitting to yourself that you’re not what you say you are. So they play it by ear, and pride and respect get involved and everything gets messed up.

      Next time, for sure they talk to their lawyers first. There is always a painful teaching moment.

      Reply
      1. Crout

        As I said, I’m not an expert, however I have been a participant in many, many meetings where the advice of the attorney ran counter to what we all knew was the right thing to do. Of course, we don’t pay lawyers to act as moral advisors, so I get that.

        Reply
  4. Taylor Pruitt

    If the Sams story doesn’t sway your thought process, try Angel Rodriguez last year. K-State doesn’t operate this way and likely isn’t unless they have/had good reason

    Two, she is not an indentured servant. She can leave K-State any time she wants. She can get a scholarship at a multitude of schools. She can walk on at the school of her choosing and after paying her way for a year she can get a scholarship.

    I agree it’s a convoluted situation and we will likely never now know the whole story but she does have options. Saying/implying she doesn’t is well below the insight I have come to expect from you.

    Reply
    1. Fin Alyn

      Why should she have to pay for her way at another school? Schools are willing to pay her way for her, yet K State won’t let her out of a 1 way contract that they could dismiss her from anytime they choose. We could also say she has the option of going home and sitting out a year, or going to a women’s professional league, or becoming a short order cook in Reno, Nevada, none of which is the same as being allowed to do what she should be allowed to do, which is transfer to another school. They denied a list of ONE HUNDRED schools. She isn’t going to, or being recruited by the school that the former coaches went to. There is no reason for K State to be acting this way at this point of the game.

      Reply
    2. Karyn

      Paying her way for a year? I have no idea about her family’s financial situation, but tuition is expensive–and doubly so for a foreign student.

      Joe’s right. The university holds all the power here. They can cut her at any time, but she doesn’t have the option of walking away, no strings.

      Reply
    3. Sanford Sklansky

      In response to Taylor, yes she could walk on and pay, but school is pretty expensive, especially if you go to a big time school. And why should she have to do that when a school would offer her a scholarship right now. And why should it be a one way street for any university can lift a scholarship but the athlete can’t leave and get a scholarship elsewhere.

      Reply
    4. s williams

      There is NO good reason to refuse to release her to every school in the nation. Repeat, NO good reason. KState is destroying whatever reputation they had.

      Reply
    5. Beffenette

      Why should she have to do walk on somewhere else? She’s not under a contract. She should be free to go wherever she wants to.

      This whole situation stinks. There is no good reason for them to deny her ability to take a scholarship elsewhere, and there is zero justification for them to even have the ability do so.

      It just stinks.

      Reply
  5. mark

    I have been trying to live my life lately by a new mantra. Be Reasonable. This situation fails the basic question…Is the University being reasonable? “The specter of liability” has been ruining our faith in each other and making lawyers rich for a long time. blah.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: And worse-est | Women's Hoops Blog

  7. Bono

    Joe: Though I’m sure your article will come to the concerned parties attention, I think it would be great if you wrote them a short message surmising your thoughts. I suppose it’s too late, since the process has official protocol, but as someone who cares about the college and is not simply chiming in to criticize a clearly absurd situation your opinion would hopefully get through to those responsible rather than being lost in the melee. Perhaps I’m being (very) overly sentimental, but I sense genuine concern on your part and you, unlike many, are in a position to actually have influence, even if it’s not influence enough to change this situation.

    Reply
    1. chlsmith

      And that influence is wielded through the article as published. That’s what the press is for….not just for overly sappy stories about the statistics of baseball players of bygone generations. I love the sappy stories, too, though. :)

      Reply
  8. Phaedrus

    For everyone that says, “something else is afoot” or “there must be more to the story”, please give us ONE good reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to transfer. I’ve thought about it and I’m drawing a blank.

    Perhaps this girl should just go steal some crab legs from the local grocery store. If she’s dismissed from the team, would she be eligible to transfer?

    Reply
    1. Josiah

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that the rules structure as currently arranged is good. What I do think we are arguing is that given the current rules, KSU is probably not as bad as it looks/is being portrayed.

      Reply
      1. Jaunty Rockefeller

        But K State isn’t constrained by the rules here—it’s entirely within its discretion to allow Romero to transfer. Perhaps the school is relying on the rules for justification of its position, but it could ignore the rules and let her go if it wished. And as others have pointed out, even if the rules provide that justification, what possible reason could the school have for taking that position in the first place? Even if Romero has acted as dastardly as imaginable…so what? She’s, what…a criminal, so the school won’t let her transfer? It just doesn’t compute.

        Reply
        1. Jaunty Rockefeller

          *could have let her go…I understand that the school’s hands might now be tied because of the nature of the appeals process. But that’s a post hoc rationalization—hardly seems to excuse the school’s behavior preceding the appeal.

          Reply
      2. forsch31

        KSU rejected a list of 100 possible schools for Romero to transfer to. It’s not the rules that are the problem; it’s a university using the rules to keep a player at their school when she no longer wants to be there.

        Reply
      3. forsch31

        Also, from Voepel’s perspective on what happened while covering the story:

        “I have lived in Kansas since 1996 and have written a lot about Kansas State women’s basketball. I regularly covered the program for several years when I was with the Kansas City Star. Since news of the conflict between Romero and the school broke in April, I have spoken to many sources close to the situation, on and off the record. I wanted to be fair in analyzing what happened. I was open to hearing the K-State administration’s side of this. I listened to it.

        But I also listened to Romero. And I don’t think K-State’s administrators actually did that. To me, that’s the saddest and most frustrating part of all this. The administration’s attitude toward Romero was dismissive. It treated her more like a problem than a person. And now, it actually does have a problem, one it created.”

        Reply
      4. mark

        And if neither you nor anyone at K State will say what that reason is we can all assume you’re making up nonsense and acting dishonorably.

        Reply
  9. Pingback: College basketball player lists 94 schools to transfer to … all 94 denied – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) | Fantastic Sports News

  10. Mike Cournoyer

    I am not super sympathetic to the “plight” of college athletes. I don’t think, for example, that college athletes should be paid beyond the free or discounted education they are receiving. However, I have always thought that the idea that a school can grant year-to-year scholarships and retract them at any time, yet the athlete is stuck with the school unless it grants permission to leave, is awful. This system seems ripe for a court challenge, similar to the suit that broke MLB’s Reserve Clause. If the colleges granted four-year scholarships (a few do), I would maybe feel differently. Then it would at least be a two-way commitment.

    Reply
  11. Brad

    Maybe there is more to the story. Maybe not. I’ve seen this happen at KSU before. I was there in the early 1980′s and I can assure Joe that “stupidville” at KSU is nothing new. The school needs to release her. She’s going to leave anyway. When you get a small town minded organization (KSU) married with the blatant corruption of the NCAA and Mark Emmert, things like this happen.

    Reply
  12. bl

    The only “something else is afoot,” or “behind the scenes” issues that could possibly make this all right is if K State is actually colluding with Romero to create a court case that would get the entire transfer rule thrown out to let students transfer wherever and whenever they want. If that’s not the case, K State is just being a bully because they can.

    Reply
  13. Kelvin Sampson

    The NCAA survived Sandusky’s raping of children. It will survive the mistreatment of Ms. Romero. Hopefully, the players will unite against the NCAA and get reforms so this mistreatment does not continue in the future. With the proper reforms, liars like John Currie won’t have the authority to screw over students. FIRE CURRIE!!!

    J

    Reply
  14. LuisLozada

    I really dislike how impossibly difficult is for a student to change schools but it is perfectly fine for a coach to quit for a better offer at another school, while leaving the kids he recruited behind.

    Reply
  15. Kevin Hartzell

    Isn’t the whole idea supposed to be that college athletics is good for the student athletes? Have we completely forgotten that? We have sports at colleges because we think it’s a good things for these young people to be involved with.

    Colleges serve their students. Not the other way around.

    Reply
  16. Pingback: College basketball player lists 94 schools to transfer to … all 94 denied « College Sport Videos

  17. Paul

    Any other student at K-State could transfer and get an academic scholarship at another school. This is just another example why “student-athlete” has nothing to do with “student.”

    Reply
  18. Steve Holtje

    Just trying to make a great article a tiny bit better: when you write, “And the fact they are yielding it is even worse,” I think you meant “wield,” not “yield.”

    Reply
  19. Drew

    Everybody loves to hate on the NCAA, and I don’t believe that D1 schools should be allowed to revoke scholarships at their discretion … but if “student-athletes” – um, she is still learning English??? – were allowed to change schools and accept other offers at will, then most middle-tier schools would serve as nothing but talent feeders to the elite athletic schools, who would routinely scout other schools and poach promising underclassmen.

    Reply
    1. James

      And how is this different from coaches who use small schools as stepping stones — or simply move to another school because lots of money was waved around– as with Romero leaving behind all of their recruits?

      Don’t the students have any rights to move… oh, right, they don’t.

      The NCAA needs to be nuked. Kansas State ought to be ashamed of itself.

      Reply
      1. Drew

        I’m not saying it’s different. I’m just pointing out that, without the rule, the Kansas States of the world – or, more likely, the Tennessee-Chattanoogas and the DePauls and the Utah States would simply become minor league teams for the Alabamas and the Kentuckys.

        Reply
        1. Jaunty Rockefeller

          But doesn’t Romero’s example tend to disprove your point? She’d prefer to leave K State for Middle Tennessee State. Of course, she might prefer to go somewhere else, like Tennessee, if able. But for that to happen, there’d have to be an open spot on the roster of one of the better teams, which means one of the players it initially recruited maybe wants to go to K State instead. If players had greater freedom of movement, perhaps there’d be more poaching by the bigger schools. But wouldn’t the middle-tier schools then just poach the benchwarmers of the powerhouses? And the lower-tier schools would do the same to the middle-tier? And so on and so on. If that’s the consequence of letting players–rather than the schools–isn’t that an improvement?

          Reply
          1. Drew

            How does Romero disprove my point? She’s considering Middle Tennessee State because it appears to be her only option.

            I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with an open market – putting aside, of course, any silly concept of the student changing schools for the betterment of his or her, y’know, education.

            I’m simply saying that, without this rule, college rosters would be completely fluid from year to year. The eventual ramifications of that are unclear.

            The sophomore at the middle-tier school who looked forward to move into the starting lineup no longer has that opportunity because his school has just signed the tenth man on Michigan State’s roster at his position. The media would speculate on which kids were going to transfer to which schools in the offseason. Would college fans continue to support programs under this scenario? Etc, etc.

    2. Mike Cournoyer

      I DO think transferring athletes should still have to sit out a year in most cases, as they do now. This is something of a deterrent to transferring for any old reason.

      Reply
  20. Karyn

    Someone above mentioned this earlier, but . . . she’s still learning English? How is she doing university-level academic work?

    Reply
  21. Carl

    Perhaps Joe what is needed here is another white southern gentleman and his wife to “adopt” Leticia. Problem w grades? No problem. She’ll get grades off the Internet. Then, when Leticia graduates, the booster can make some their money back selling the movie rights.

    Reply
  22. Pingback: Kansas State learns basic PR, releases Leticia Romero - Gubta News Media

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  28. John

    Well, you lost me with all that “It’s un-American” stuff. She did sign a letter of intent, which is a binding contract. In America, contracts are honored unless one side voluntarily lets the other side out of it, there is an out clause that the bound party can exercise to get out of it or there is a major problem (e.g. fraud) with it. So I think that’s just a bunch of hyperbolic nonsense. You don’t have to like it. But it’s not un-American.

    Now, all that being said, I do sympathize with her situation, and I think that the rules should stipulate that if the coach leaves *for any reason,* all players are automatically allowed to transfer to another school. Certainly, this should be the case in a situation in which the coach is fired. If Steve Alfraud…er…Alford (bitter New Mexico fan here) negotiates a huge extension in lieu of actually preparing his team for the NCAA Tournament, doesn’t actually sign the contract (even though it was announced publicly) and bolts for UCLA after a humiliating loss to Harvard…maybe I could see holding the players in place, since it’s not like the institution was the reason he left. But for fired coaches? Everyone gets out of their commitment.

    Fortunately, it appears that the public firestorm (if nothing else, Kansas State should have realized that this would turn into a public relations disaster, and they should have released for that reason alone–even if they really should have just done it because it was the right thing to do) has forced Kansas State to acquiesce and allow Romero to transfer.

    I hope that she finds a better fit for her, and I do hope that the NCAA will at least consider giving the athletes more options in the future. At the very least, force universities to make four-year (or two, in the case of a transfer) committments to the athletes that can’t be revoked unless the athlete agrees to it. The double standard at play here is pretty appalling. The way NFL contracts work is similar, but the difference there is that at least the athletes are very well compensated. Not so much in college.

    Reply
    1. Guest

      A letter of intent, by its very name, is not a binding contract. While I agree that Joe’s use of “anti-American” was strange, your premise is utterly incorrect.

      Reply
  29. Pete R

    “Anti-American” sounds exactly right, although “un-American” would work just as well. If the old Soviet Union had had an organisation like the NCAA, it would have fit in perfectly. Maybe it did, I don’t know. The Soviet leadership assumed that everyone should live, study and work where they were told to: people’s wishes were entirely irrelevant. Transfer this story to Vladivostok in 1975, and it just isn’t news.

    But how did the NCAA happen in the USA? Correct me if I’m wrong, but if any other organisations conspired against individuals in the way that universities conspire against “student-athletes”, it would be completely illegal. For instance, if a group of competing employers agreed that they wouldn’t take each other’s workers, that agreement would be absolutely illegal.

    The reason the NCAA continues to exist is not because it conforms to American ideals- far from it. It exists because the universities are far more powerful, organised and wealthy than the student-athletes.

    Reply
    1. Guest

      Pete R let me introduce you to the Founding Fathers of this country — a group of slave owners who wanted to be free! (ht: g. carlin). the ncaa is as american as apple pie. or the founding fathers. take your pick.

      Reply

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