The Jason Capel-Devonte Graham Controversy is Officially a Mess

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 30th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The biggest source of frustration with the NCAA’s outdated guidelines is its amateurism philosophy, which holds that student-athletes cannot accept money above the amount provided with a room and board scholarship. Not far behind is the swath of restrictive policies the organization has in place, primarily those concerning transfers. In a world where coaches are allowed to switch jobs on a whim, collecting fat paychecks in the transfer while players are forced not only to seek a permission to contact and clear a desired destination with their head coach but also sit out one season before regaining eligibility, is royally screwed up. Few rational people deny this. Another source of mass antipathy? The national letter of intent (NLI), which basically forces players to give up every form of leverage they have before ever enrolling at their university of choice. By signing the NLI, players are: 1) prohibited from being recruited by other schools; 2) forced to enroll at their selected school, lest give up 25 percent of their athletic eligibility; 3) forced to abide by standard transfer rules (permission to contact, maniacally restrictive coaches declaring a raft of schools and conferences off limits, the customary one-year holdover penalty, etc.). This does not sound like a fair agreement, and it isn’t! Which leads one to wonder why a player like Devonte Graham, a point guard from Raleigh who committed to Appalachian State in September 2012 and used the early November signing period to ink his NLI, would ever sign it in the first place.

Not releasing Graham from his NLI makes Graham come off as cruel and unforgiving, but we may not know the full story (AP).

After signing to play for Appalachian State and head coach Jason Capel, Graham’s stock soared as he impressed coaches during his senior season at Broughton High School. Other schools – schools most young point guards from Raleigh would choose over Appalachian State at a moment’s notice (no offense, App) – predictably took notice. Graham had soon drawn interest from a host of high D-I programs, including Pittsburgh, Providence, Creighton, Wichita State, UConn and Rhode Island. By mid-February, Graham had asked for a release from his NLI to pursue a more high-profile college hoops experience. Far from being cooperative, Capel failed to oblige his request. Now spending a post-graduate year at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, essentially stuck in eligibility limbo, Graham faces the likelihood of having to burn one year of eligibility if he decides to transfer to another school. Unless, of course, Capel sets him free. Based on a statement released from the school Saturday, it only appears the school, and Capel, are digging their heels in even further.

As our coaching staff fully expected, Devonte had a terrific senior season last winter and, accordingly, drew the interest of programs from what are widely recognized as power conferences. However, due to his binding agreement with Appalachian State, other programs were not permitted by NCAA rules to contact him, be it directly or through people claiming to represent his interests. Due to our concerns that these rules were not followed and the fact that we had turned away all other potential student-athletes that could have capably filled his spot on the roster, we denied his request for a release from his binding letter of intent. We also made the NCAA aware of our concerns.

That’s the most important excerpt of a longer statement, but the message rings through: Perceived tampering appears to be at least part of the reason Capel is resisting the clamor of discontent building around his unwillingness to release Graham. Which school, or schools, is he concerned with, exactly? ESPN’s Jeff Goodman found the answer Saturday morning. “Appalachian State coach Jason Capel will not allow Devonte Graham to play elsewhere, and part of his refusal stems from allegations of tampering by NC State,” Goodman writes. Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried was quoted in Goodman’s story, and flatly denied the charge he tampered with Graham’s recruitment. “We absolutely didn’t tamper,” Gottfried said.

The eligibility penalty the NLI forces on players that, like Graham, decide to renege on their commitments is prohibitive enough. Even worse is the stipulation that Graham, while seeking an opportunity to play at bigger program, is not even allowed to talk to other coaches until after his NLI expires. In sum, Graham is stuck in a very unenviable place. His basketball ambition is being stifled by one of the NCAA’s archaic and brutally unfair mechanisms, and uness Capel decides to budge, the only way Graham will play for a program not named Appalachian State is if he defies Capel and takes the one-year eligibility hit. It’s important to keep in mind that not all of the blame belongs to Capel. If Graham thought there was any shot he might one day look to play at a different school, he should have never signed the NLI last November. Then his successful senior season, and the increased major conference interest that attended it, would never have presented the eligibility quandary he now faces. The NLI’s terms of agreement are tilted grossly in favor of coaches, sure, but Graham knew that when he willfully signed the NLI last November – or, at the very least, he should have known.

Unless the chorus of disapproval gets so loud, and so critical, that Capel is forced to give in, it doesn’t appear as if Graham is will be able to resolve this issue on his own terms.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site and a freelance contributor to

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