Jordan Burch's signing day melodramas foretold his eventual transfer
For 50 days in the winter of 2019-20, Jordan Burch was at the center of one of the most bizarre signing day dramas of all time.
I want to first make it clear that I harbor no personal animus toward Jordan Burch as a result of his decision to transfer from South Carolina, and I encourage other Gamecock fans to proceed with a similar disposition. As I have written previously, the NCAA (and the schools that comprise it) has created a compensation structure in which college athletes are, in effect, gig workers, not employees. And so when a player transfers in pursuit of better opportunities elsewhere, they are guilty of little more than using the system exactly as it was designed to be used. Who, after all, could begrudge a Lyft driver — to pick another member of the gig economy — for switching over to Uber if the latter is offering slightly better fares?
And yet, even as we refrain from passing moral judgment on Burch’s transfer, it is still possible to analyze and discuss the decision: whether the action was undertaken wisely, its potential impact on the team, and the degree to which this outcome might have been foreseeable. I will leave the first two questions for others to decide. But as to the last: it does not seem altogether surprising that this is where the story of Jordan Burch and USC ended up.
At least not to anyone who remembers the bizarre circumstances of his signing.
It was a Wednesday afternoon at Hammond School, and teachers were leading their elementary schoolers into the gymnasium, single-file. Hammond is a K-12 school, so the fourth-graders were squeezing in alongside the seventh-graders and high-school seniors, filling up the bleachers and the folding chairs that had been set up on the floor. Once the media and the athletes’ family members had been admitted, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
As the attendees craned their necks upward to the dais, they saw a table draped in red cloth, bookended by Hammond football helmets. They saw a thicket of microphones so dense that it surely would have obscured their vision of anyone smaller the 6’5, 275-pounder whose arrival they awaited.
When Jordan Burch finally entered the gym, he was flanked by eight family members, including his mother — who played an influential and sometimes mystifying role in his recruitment. Burch sat down at the dais in front of five baseball caps, bearing the logos of South Carolina, LSU, Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia.
When Burch, the No. 5-ranked prospect in the country, announced his decision, he chose the school that was just a six-mile jaunt down Shop Road from where he sat. The school Burch picked was the alma mater of his high school head coach, who was himself a folk hero among USC fans. The school Burch picked was the same one chosen by his teammate, Alex Huntley, who was seated in the front row at the Hammond gym, clutching one of the towels passed out at Williams-Brice Stadium for fans to wave during Sandstorm. And the school Burch picked employed the father of another high school teammate, Jackson Muschamp.
When Jordan Burch announced that he would be taking his “academic and athletic talents” to the University of South Carolina for “the next three to four years,” Will Muschamp and the rest of the Gamecock football staff were ecstatic.
But it took a month and a half before USC could publish that video without breaking NCAA rules. Because the letter of intent that Jordan Burch was expected to sign — i.e., the very event which the preceding ceremony had been premised on — never made the six-mile journey to the South Carolina football offices.
The letter of intent did not arrive in time for Muschamp’s Dec. 18 press conference, so the USC coach was required to remain conspicuously silent on the topic of his five-star commitment. It did not arrive at any point during the following day. And it did not arrive by midnight on Dec. 20, when the early signing period closed.
Media and fans alike were stunned by this development. Most college coaches were adopting a stance that committed players who did not sign during the early signing period were, as far as the coaches were concerned, not actually committed. Where, then, did that leave Jordan Burch?
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