Football can be politics. Look at the departure of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC. The maneuvering was done behind closed doors, and relationships have been broken forever. Why do some head coaches get the benefit of the doubt after a 6-6 campaign, but others get run out of town? The behind-the-scenes politics of decision-makers and boosters often sway that.
On the field, we’d like to think the best player is always the one playing. We like to hold onto the notion the game is always a meritocracy. In many cases it is. But recruiting is also politics. The glad-handing, trust, and relationships built during recruiting will alter decisions of playing-time and starting nods. It’s not just based on production.
This brings us to the Syracuse quarterback decision. Dino Babers has named Tommy DeVito as the starter, and Garrett Shrader as the backup. Everyone assumes we’ll see both in the opener against Ohio. We’d like to assume the play on the field will dictate who gets more snaps and starts the rest of the way.
DeVito may be the better option. He’s older and more experienced in this offense. The staff and huddle have more familiarity with him. But the reality is also that Babers can’t afford to make him QB2 vs. Ohio. DeVito walked into the program as the highly-touted 4-star recruit from a talent-rich part of the SU recruiting footprint. If Babers wants to keep those relationships healthy with high school coaches, recruiting pipeline touchpoints, and parents, he has to allow DeVito to lose the job on the field. He has to give him every chance to succeed before he pulls the plug.
It may seem illogical for a program that only had one win last year and a head coach on the hot seat to make decisions based on anything but the best chance to win. But sometimes there’s short plays for the sake of long returns. If Babers is to fully turn this program around he needs the best talent afforded to him from the state of New Jersey. He must do right by those coaches and players that he makes promises to.
This is not to say Shrader is definitely the better option. There’s no way to know how Babers has viewed practice habits, film room sessions, and the input of his staff. Perhaps they all think DeVito is the best guy. On the flip side, Shrader might end up being the right man for the job this fall. He may get the job at some point mid-season and never look back. But in baseball, tie goes to the runner. In this case, tie goes to the incumbent. DeVito has to be given the chance to succeed before Shrader. It’s the politics of football.