Coaches can leave; why can't players?

These days in college basketball, time marches on. For some, it marches faster - and with fewer shouts of discouragement - than others.

In leading Florida to a second consecutive national championship, Billy Donovan did everything you could ask of a college head coach, and then some. He will be rewarded handsomely for it, either by Florida or by Kentucky. Win-win all the way.


Greg Oden is in the market for a raise, too. Same for his Ohio State teammate Mike Conley Jr., and Florida underclassmen Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford. They'd all be entitled, too. They're all now free to pursue one.

They'll just have to hear about how they're soiling themselves by lusting after money, no matter if they also have done everything asked of them, and then some.


Oh, Donovan will have to hear a little of it, too. If he leaves Florida, he'll hear that all he cares about is cashing in, and Gators fans will curse his name every time he goes back to Gainesville.

Not much else, though. Donovan is entitled to make a living, and just as entitled to test the market, use his leverage and reap its benefits. Coaches come and coaches go in this business. The offseason revolving door is as much a part of the game as the illegal summer practice and the unethical text message.

Between the time Donovan wrapped up talking to reporters Sunday afternoon and when he cut down the nets Monday night, word trickled out of four such switcheroos. Arkansas, having fired Stan Heath for no particular reason, got Dana Altman to (briefly) walk out on Creighton and take the job. Heath was signed up by South Florida.

Also, less than a week after leading West Virginia to the National Invitation Tournament title, John Beilein took the Michigan job. And two weeks after Butler made another Sweet 16 inroad for the mid-majors, its coach, Todd Lickliter, went major-major by taking the Iowa job.

Round and round she goes.

Every once in a while, there will be a distant muffled cry about college coaches subverting the mission of an institute of higher learning, and about violating trusts with players and going back on promises about his commitment to them. Such cries will be quickly shouted down. Even if the cry comes from NCAA president Myles Brand - who repeatedly and publicly states his abhorrence at the coaching arms race in basketball and football - and even if he ends up shouting himself down by doing nothing about it.

But how can you get mad at Donovan? He's tried all weekend to issue polite no-comments about Kentucky's overtures. On Monday night, confetti still in his widow's peak, he got the question again, and he said, as expected, that he's still the coach of the great guys at Florida and this moment was about them. "It was a good try, though," he added, laughing.

One reason you really can't get mad at him: This time, just like last time, he's not going to base any advice to his players on his own needs, but on their own. As he said many times over the weekend, leaving early is neither right nor wrong, it's just what works for each player.


Drowning that voice out, though, will be all the others who treat college ball as a sacred experience that it is blasphemous to interrupt. It worked for the Gators trio; it doesn't work for everybody. It might not work for them next year.

It might work for Oden next year, or not. But if he, the hot player in the sport, decides to use his leverage the way Donovan, the hot coach, used his, he will be reminded ad nauseam that he'd be leaving behind the idylls of campus life - which, in some minds, might very well mean panty raids, phone-booth-stuffing and goldfish-swallowing.

We know this will be the reaction because of the reaction to Florida's win Monday night, which validated the Gators players' stand for what several commentators have called the "purity" of the college game.

Sure. You looked around the Georgia Dome on Saturday and Monday nights, and all over downtown Atlanta, in the hotels and the plazas and on the banners hanging over the streets, soundstages and exhibitions - and the first thing you thought of was "purity," right?

How will the sight of a coach taking both of his rings and beating it to an in-conference rival for a swamp-load of cash fit into this "pure" image? It never has altered it before. Let the players be pure, but let the coaches keep their shoe money, their TV shows and their prerogative to break a contract if a better offer comes along.

Occasionally, perceptive college athletes notice this double standard and, again, issue a muffled cry, only to be silenced again. Others shrug, submit their names to the NBA and apologize to no one.


If Oden uses one of the most memorable games by a freshman in NCAA championship game history as a springboard to the pros, he won't need to apologize to anyone.

If no one asks Billy Donovan for one, no one needs to ask Oden for one, either. They should both sleep well. But only one will sleep quietly.