Jimbo Fisher has been put in an impossible predicament, one that will spark criticism and controversy regardless of the eventual outcome. Yet, even though Florida State has done absolutely nothing wrong in this instance, it needs to reconsider its position and release 5-star linebacker recruit Matthew Thomas from his letter of intent.
Its firm stance against doing so, while understandable given the circumstances, accomplishes little. The concern over setting a recruiting precedent might actually pale in comparison to the national perception—unfair or not—brought on by the school simply standing its ground.
The situation is well known by now.
Thomas, the No. 14 player in the class of 2013, according to 247Sports, committed to Florida State on national signing day by submitting his signed letter of intent. As it turns out, this decision was greatly influenced by his mother—something he discussed in a recent interview with The Miami Herald.
What happened was on Signing Day [was] I wasn’t sure who I wanted to sign with. I had issues with different schools. But when I told my mom I didn’t want to sign with anybody and wait and give it a few days she said I couldn’t do that. She said, ‘FSU is a good school – pick them. It’s close to home.’ I wasn’t agreeing with it. But I felt like I was being disrespectful to her if I didn’t sign. So I made her happy.
The defensive standout has referenced both Georgia and USC as possible future destinations. Florida State, however, isn’t budging. The Seminoles are planning to visit with Thomas, in hopes that he will reconsider his change of heart.
In the meantime, the school has no intention to grant him his release from the program he committed to back in February.
Randy Spetman, FSU’s athletic director, spoke with the Tallahassee Democrat at the ACC spring meetings and made the school’s stance abundantly clear.
"The feeling is we wouldn’t release him,” Spetman said. “You’d get into a situation where if you release him, then people would be doing that every year."
The talk of an appeal with the NCAA has already surfaced, although it’s unknown if it will ever get to that point before one side gives in.
In the meantime, an ugly standoff between a high school senior who was conflicted during a taxing process and a school simply trying to hold on to its gem commitment—one it worked hard to obtain over the course of many months—will wage on. It’s only getting started.
There are no winners here, and neither side is wrong for fighting for what it believes is right and deserved. Both are looking out for their best interests, and a legal battle (with moral implications) is underway.
Unique situations call for unique responses, and while Thomas is far from the first (or last) to want out of his letter of intent before he's arrived on campus, letting him leave for another school without forcing him to sit out a full season wouldn’t have the dramatic effect many assume it would.
These kinds of roster situations have been going on for quite some time, although the high-profile nature of both the school (and recruit)—as well as the headline-less days of the offseason—have prompted more coverage.
But it's not the kind of coverage that Florida State would prefer. It would much rather associate itself with more positive news like the item that surfaced in September 2012, when Jimbo Fisher honored the scholarship of high schooler Richy Klepal, even after he had to give up football altogether because of multiple concussions.
This was a tremendous gesture of good faith on the part of FSU, one that was commended (and deservingly so). Less than a year later, a fascinating roster decision has again surfaced, the circumstances unique.
Their unwillingness to let go of Thomas, however, doesn’t make FSU the “bad guy” this time around—not even close. But at this point, why drag it out? Why try to force someone to play at your school who clearly doesn’t want to be there?
If Florida State is truly interested in the well-being of this young man, this “student-athlete” who simply wants to play football at another school, then why put up this fight?
Coaxing a signature from a 17- or 18-year-old while he’s under unimaginable pressure from coaches and family members alike is a lot to ask from someone when it comes to one of the most important decisions of their life; a decision that is being broadcast live to the world.
Still, it is a signature, albeit during a strange, amplified time when it comes to recruiting. For Florida State, however, it would serve the school best to just let him walk. Flexing legal muscle at this point won’t improve the recruiting class. In fact, it could have an opposite effect.
The situation will spark a variety of unique responses, many of them negative. Holding an unhappy recruit against his will certainly won’t help future recruiting.
It won’t be damning for the players dead-set on playing out their three-to-four years in Tallahassee, but other recruits and certainly teams tasked with recruiting against FSU will be happy to have the extra ammunition.
Whether it’s avoiding negative PR or simply turning the page on a likely inevitable departure, Florida State needs to let Thomas walk. Not because it is the bad guy if it doesn't, but because it’s the right thing to do.