David Jones broke the news last week that freshman center Peter Alexis was going to vacate his basketball scholarship after this season. Jones offers his own opinion in the article that the decision was made because Alexis 'has not suitably impressed Chambers with his level of play'. There have been no reports or quotes yet from Coach Chambers or anyone involved with the program about the decision. We will likely get answers at Chambers' weekly presser today when Jones inevitably brings it up.
Back in 2010, when PSU was on a 12-game losing streak and finished last in the Big Ten behind lowly Indiana and Iowa, fans' feelings towards Ed DeChellis had soured. I wrote that the time to make a coaching change was then, even if that meant leaving Talor and his class in limbo heading into their senior year. That way the new coach not only had remaining talent to work with his first year, but he'd also have plenty of opening scholarships to fill with his own guys right away. Obviously, that's not how it played out.
Chambers got to inherit a full roster of young players with only two true upperclassmen. The scholarships aren't there for him to bring in his own guys to fit his system. That has left him in a very tough position as a new coach. Does he base the future of the program on how well he can turn these inherited players into a formidable Big Ten team? DeChellis and his staff weren't the worst recruiters in the world, but their success rate on the recruiting trail was probably about 40%. There have been plenty of misses for every Jamelle Cornley, Geary Claxton, and Talor Battle. The early returns on the 5-man 2011 class seem to fit this standard with a few capable players and a few not so capable.
During the announcement of Chambers' hiring, he discussed with the media the possibility of having 'carefrontations', a term he coined to describe these kind of conversations; 'I care about you, but it's not working out here'. We don't know all of the facts about this decision, but from the surface it looks pretty obvious that Alexis was the first carefrontation considering the timing with PSU's hot pursuit of 2012 F Sheldon Jeter. There were no 2012 scholarships open until this news broke. It turns out Jeter finally got his official offer from the staff two days before Jones' story broke.
Alexis was the first commitment for DeChellis in this 2011 class (with the exception of Trey Burke). When he committed, he spoke very highly of the school moreso than basketball or DeChellis. From all accounts, he is in love with Penn State. He is currently in the Division of Undergraduate Studies (undeclared), but he has mentioned pursuing an engineering degree multiple times. There is nothing that suggests that Alexis isn't worthy of keeping his scholarship for anything off the court.
The situation challenges the core purpose of the NCAA, which is stated as:
Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.
If Alexis was given his release because he wasn't good enough at basketball, clearly his educational experience wasn't considered a priority. He has the opportunity to walk-on at Penn State or transfer to another college and sit out a year. He does have 4 years of eligibility, since he hasn't seen the floor this season. A great fit for Alexis would be somewhere in the Patriot League, but I don't think Alexis wants to give up the Penn State experience. I personally think there's a great chance Alexis returns to the team next year as walk-on, but that's just a hunch.
This kind of move, if it was in fact based off of strictly Alexis' basketball ability, should make many of the Penn State pride brigade uneasy. One wouldn't blink an eye if this happened in the SEC, but it's something many PSU fans criticize the SEC and other programs for. It seems the importance of winning is outweighing the priority of education here. Would this fall under 'the Paterno Way'? Probably not, but it's important to realize how premium basketball scholarships are compared to football. Basketball would be allowed 20 scholarships if it was proportioned to the ratio of football scholarships to players needed to field a team. Instead, there are only 13, leaving very little room for mistakes on the recruiting trail.
I grew up on college athletics being a business. I didn't grow up on the Grand Experiment. These kind of decisions don't bother me. I've seen too many players in this program get a free education despite doing nothing to prove they were worthy of the scholarship offer. This program has lost so much that perhaps adopting some of this mainstream culture in NCAA athletics might not be such a bad thing, even if it makes us a little uncomfortable. I don't want to sound like I would rather see us sell our soul to win, but this situation is very reasonable, in my opinion, if it was handled the right way. Alexis will have plenty of quality opportunities if he doesn't stay at PSU. I would be much more concerned if Chambers started cutting his own players. If this is the 'dirtiest' Chambers ever gets, I'll be a happy fan.
The situation unfortunately is unfair to everybody, and it's likely Alexis won't be the first to be carefronted. It's not fair to Chambers' to have his job success depend on other coach's players, it's not fair to Tim Frazier to hold the team back so someone else can get a free education, but it's also not fair to Alexis, who possibly just had his scholarship pulled for no wrongdoing of his own. It could have been avoided if a coaching decision was made at the end of the 2010 season, but it's not like DeChellis was ever fired, anyway.
Coach Chambers has been universally applauded across the whole fan base. I haven't seen anyone criticize anything he has done since he was hired in June. The team this season has unquestionably exceeded expectations. However, this could be the first move that draws some disapproval among the Penn State faithful. Be sure to tune into Chambers' response at his afternoon press conference.