In spite of the turmoil swirling around him,
Henry and fellow signee
Henry, for his part, is grateful Johnson made the deal. "It's the best thing that could have happened, because I didn't expect this to happen," Henry said that afternoon last month. "I'm so glad I got it."
Henry has since received his release, and he'll visit Kentucky next weekend. His new list of finalists also includes Kansas and Memphis. Meanwhile, the athletic directors at the nation's best football schools are watching Henry's situation from afar and breathing deep sighs of relief.
While the text of the NLI explicitly states that players sign with a school and not a coach and that the athlete's signature on the NLI "nullifies any agreements, oral or otherwise, which would release me from the conditions stated within this NLI," a situation similar to the one at Memphis could have wreaked havoc had conferences approved an early signing period in football. In January, football coaches overwhelmingly approved a signing period in the first week of December, but conference leaders shot down the plan. The Memphis basketball program's predicament offers the best explanation why.
With some schools willing to cut deals that would release players if the coach they signed with left, athletic directors would have had a devil of a time firing football coaches. Just consider the domino effect caused by Henry's release. Star recruit
Now, imagine what might happen if there was a Dec. 2 signing day in football and this completely-hypothetical-yet-entirely-plausible scenario took place. After a season deemed unfit by Notre Dame standards, Fighting Irish athletic director
So after Clemson loses to Virginia Tech in the title game, Swinney, after a day of intense deliberation, takes the Notre Dame job on Dec. 7. That leaves Clemson's 12 signees in flux. Now, let's assume six of those signees always dreamed of playing for Clemson. They choose to stay. The other six immediately request releases.
Now, Clemson needs a coach. Athletic director
You see where this is going -- and that's just the ripple effect from one high-profile firing.
The support for an early signing period from college and high school coaches and from players suggests that sooner or later, the measure will get approved. When that happens, schools and the NCAA will have to examine side deals such as the one Henry received, because nearly every top-flight football prospect will want one.
Peal said prospects also must consider the fact that the NCAA will not hold the school to the terms of the side deal because it essentially is nullified by the prospect's signature on the NLI. "Even with that, the prospect still has to go through the formal release process," Peal said. "It could still be denied. ... Anything else you've agreed upon isn't binding. Just having that addendum doesn't allow the student-athlete to walk away."
That may be true, but a court of law might not feel the same way. Besides, Memphis' Johnson pointed out, the court of public opinion is far more important. Johnson would rather honor the deal and lose a player than earn a reputation as someone who reneges on his word and harm recruiting in the future.
Memphis isn't the only school to offer such deals. When Ohio State signed a basketball class that included
That's precisely why Johnson -- who said he knows Memphis isn't looked at "like a Notre Dame or a UCLA" -- agreed to offer the addendums. The peace of mind they provided allowed Calipari to offer something schools with better facilities, tradition and prestige either could not or would not offer. "In an ideal world, I'd love to have them locked in," said Johnson, who will offer the same option to new coach
If an early signing period ever comes to football, expect schools in the non-BCS leagues to follow the example set by Memphis basketball. If that becomes a significant recruiting advantage, expect the big boys to follow suit. Then wait for the first domino to fall. "They have to realize," Peal said, "that they would be facing the same situation as basketball."