Luke DeCock

Shame on Pitt for standing in Cameron Johnson’s way at UNC – DeCock

North Carolina’s Theo Pinson (1) and Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson (23) chase down a loose ball during on Feb. 25, 2017 at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
North Carolina’s Theo Pinson (1) and Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson (23) chase down a loose ball during on Feb. 25, 2017 at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. rwillett@newsobserver.com

There’s not much to say about Cameron Johnson that he hasn’t already said better himself. The general concept of a graduate transfer is that an athlete has completed his academic responsibilities at the school and should therefore be allowed to use his remaining eligibility wherever he likes. Pittsburgh apparently thinks it has control over Johnson indefinitely.

The blatant hypocrisy of coaches and administrators who jump from school to school on a whim while treating athletes like chattel is nauseating, and Johnson does a good job of presenting the evidence of Pittsburgh’s gall in restraining his freedom of movement when both of his coaches and both of his athletic directors and even the administrator who oversaw his appeal all came or went in the middle of their contracts.

Pittsburgh’s insistence that Johnson sit out a year if he transfers to North Carolina – if it’s even enforceable, since there’s no relevant NCAA bylaw – is petty and capricious, merely punishing an athlete for wanting to leave. It’s just another manifestation of the same predatory policies that denied Terry Henderson a sixth year of eligibility. That time, it was the NCAA enforcing the will of its member institutions. This time, it’s the naked possessiveness of a member institution laid bare.

The faux outrage that he would dare to transfer “within the conference” is as amusing as it is precious. Maybe in the old days, that meant something, when conferences were made up of schools with shared history and geography. In an era where conferences are merely convenient cartels arranged to negotiate television rights, Pittsburgh’s relationship to North Carolina is purely and solely a business one.

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Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson (23) reacts in front of his bench after sinking a 3-point basket in the second half against UNC on Jan. 31, 2017 at the Smith Center. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Johnson, the son of a Pittsburgh alum, probably wouldn’t want to transfer to Penn State or West Virginia, but what does North Carolina mean deep in the sports DNA of a Pittsburgh fan? Nothing. Even when there are traditional bonds, it should still be up to the kid. North Carolina didn’t stop wide receiver T.J. Thorpe from transferring to Virginia after he graduated, and rightfully so. And there’s more precedent for graduate transfers within the ACC, even in basketball: Adam Smith graduated from Virginia Tech and jumped to Georgia Tech. No one made a big deal about it. It was the right thing to do.

The evidence is so heavily weighted on Johnson’s side that it’s only a matter of time until Pittsburgh is shamed into doing the right thing, but not before exposing yet again that what the NCAA calls “student-athletes” actually are more like indentured servants.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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