By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) At the University of Illinois, the faces may change.
But the drama does not.
On Wednesday night, the latest twist in the ongoing soap opera that is the Illini athletic department unfolded when we learned that Jalen James, the Class of 2013 point guard recruit from Indiana’s La Lumiere School, won’t be heading to Champaign one year from now.
Perhaps we can call it the “Young & The Restless.”
However we label it, Paul Klee of the Champaign News-Gazette reported that Illinois coach John Groce decided James wasn’t the right fit for his system and severed ties. James, meanwhile, didn’t seem particularly bummed by the break, tweeting on Wednesday: “I wish Coach Groce And The Illini Staff The Best Of Luck In The Future!“
Whatever the exact reasons driving it, James’ sudden departure certainly was a surprise, but it wasn’t overly unnerving as the decision seemed to be largely mutual.
Considerably more unsettling for the Illinois program – and, I’d say, college basketball at large – was what transpired the day before when assistant coach Isaac Chew announced he was leaving Illinois for a similar position at Marquette, a mere six weeks after he bolted Missouri to accept the job in Champaign.
Reportedly, Chew received a sizable raise to join Buzz Williams’ staff in Milwaukee and the ever-so-brief Illini coach explained that his move “was an emotional decision. It was emotional for me and for my wife and my family … I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity. That’s just the bottom line.”
Ironically, it was just a month ago when Chew – a Windy City native – was telling the Chicago Tribune, “I just appreciate the opportunity to do something special at home. I grew up an Illinois fan. It’s one of those situations that was a dream opportunity.”
A lot of opportunities this guy has.
Too many, I’d argue.
Now, everyone knows that in college athletics loyalty doesn’t extend very far. Players commit to schools – and then decommit from them. Staffs can cool on committed recruits. Coaches bolt every year for other programs. And just as often, schools fire their coaches.
It’s all part of the game. But I don’t think Chew’s situation should have been, and I’d urge the NCAA to take measures to stop such a rapid school hopping from happening again in the future.
At Illinois, Groce had been counting on Chew – a one-time Chicago Public League standout – to anchor Illini recruiting efforts in the city. Without him, the Illini are now left in the lurch just as the summer recruiting season is set to heat up. But that isn’t my issue with Chew’s departure.
After all, a coach leaving for another job is always inconvenient, no matter what time of the year it occurs. Rather, my problem with Chew leaving Illinois is that he was lured away so shortly after he’d arrived.
If money is more important to Chew than his professional responsibility, then that’s his call. And if the guy really wants to be at Marquette – as Chew clearly does – then it’s best that he’s up there. After all, no college program wants a coach on its staff who doesn’t want to be there and isn’t fully committed to the school.
But my take is that Marquette shouldn’t have been allowed to offer Chew a job that convinced him to break his promise to Illinois just weeks after he’d made it.
I propose that when college coaches sign a contract with a school, they be required to fulfill at least one full season of that contract before any other program can contact them with a competing job offer. If Buzz Williams wanted Chew, he should have had to wait a year to make an attempt to hire him. After that year, he could offer Chew the world, if the Golden Eagles still had it – and an open assistant position – to offer him.
When college athletes transfer, they’re required to sit out a full season. So, why shouldn’t coaches have some stipulations applied to their movements from school to school, too?
I don’t begrudge Chew his right to work where he pleases. And I don’t begrudge Marquette the right to hire whichever coaches it chooses. But when a coach makes a commitment to a program like Chew did, he should be expected to live up to commitment for at least a year before other schools can be allowed to try to lure him away.
And I say to the NCAA, Chew on that.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.