Are we officially in the "Free Agency" era of College Football?
College Football ain't what it used to be. In fact, you could easily argue, outside the school names, it bears very little resemblance to the game played 30-years ago (1990's).
If that seems like a long time to you, it isn't. It certainly isn't to me, but that's because I was covering College Football games at that time (yes, I'm old).
Now that we are fully invested in the "Transfer Portal" and the "One-Time transfer rules", the era of living off recruits only has come--and gone.
With the portal now in full swing, it's now a continuous clearing house for players--some of whom never play a down for their original choice of schools--to quickly land somewhere else.
You have guys like TE Arik Gilbert who played one season at LSU and entered the portal. Shortly after entering, he announced he'd commit to playing at Florida. Seemingly days after that announcement, he recanted, re-entering the portal where it is expected he will return to LSU.
Perhaps the weirdest example is Tate Martell. Martell was a highly recruited QB out of Las Vegas who locked in to go to Ohio State. After sitting his first season behind Dwayne Haskins, Martell believed he'd be the "next man up".
The Buckeyes brought in Justin Fields from Georgia, who entered the portal because he couldn't get playing time ahead of Jake Fromm. Fields arrival in Columbus drove Martell to the Portal. He'd land in Miami.
Martell couldn't get off the bench in Miami either. In 2020, he would be suspended from the Hurricanes roster and threatened to leave before announcing he'd return to back up D'Eriq King.
I could go on with examples but the point I'm trying to make is that players can now basically come and go as they please. If they get mad at a coach or teammate or are told by a friend or family member they could do better--BOOM! they enter the portal.
It's interesting to see the argument about player movement and the fallback positions on this.
On one side, the argument is coaches can leave on a whim or better offer, why can't the players? Which is not a terrible argument, but one that no other sport--amateur or professional allows. Part of that has to do with the lack of accountability in coaches contracts, a legitimate concern.
But, should we be allowing players to move the same way?
In the NFL, if a coach is fired or leaves, the team doesn't allow players to leave--most are under contract to the team. Why should college be different? Why should college players be able to leave on a whim while the professionals are bound by a contract to the team they play for?
Ironically, the best position I think I've heard on this issue came from of all people--coaching hype man Dick Vitale. Vitale got in a Twitter debate about this and I don't know if it was thought out or spur of the moment but it makes more sense than any argument I've heard on either side of this issue.
What this has created is a time now where coaches are recruiting players 24/7/365 for the length of their stay. It's almost made the head coach a de facto General Manager who needs to be focused on the ever changing roster instead of coaching his team.
If you don't give a redshirt or bench player the love they feel they deserve, even if you fully intend for them to be a star for you the following year, you now run the risk of them just jumping in the portal.
Or--if a player goes to a smaller school and excels. Suddenly they catch the attention of the Alabama's or Ohio State's of the world. (Finger snap) They're gone.
We're talking about a world where the Group of Five and below are now feeders for the Power Five.
Think about that for a minute.
Yes, I know, College Football is a different game. I get it. Always have.
But allowing people to just up and leave without a legitimate reason outside the coach leaving. Yeah, that's chaos theory. That's free agency at its peak.
You might as well just call it what it is at this point.
Can it be fixed? Hmmm, I don't know. The cat is kind of out of the bag now and it's going to be virtually impossible to put it back in. How do you take it back?
The NCAA can't step in. They are basically a toothless old man at this point. Mark Emmert and company have little say over the Power Five and seemingly are toothless when it comes to making anything better for players...or coaches.
Congress can't step in because #Politics and most of the spineless people in Congress (both parties) don't understand the internet never mind understand college or professional sports.
The idea of the "Transfer Portal" was born to work around the antiquated NCAA Transfer rule system. That transfer rule has been dealt with as athletes in ALL sports are now allowed a one-time transfer without having to sit out. That easily resolves the issue of players being stuck playing somewhere where they aren't a good fit or the coach who recruited them leaves.
But the portal is still there. And anyone who wants to enter is allowed and can go wherever someone will have them.
Why? The portal is no longer needed if you think about it. Yet it still exists.
Maybe that's our solution here. Get rid of the "portal". Though as I said earlier, it's much easier said than done.
I suspect the players and others would take legal action if it went away largely because that's what happens now in real life. Everything is litigated.
Listen, I really do support the idea that college athletes should be able to get their fair share fo the billions their game generates. Name, Image and Likeness is a fair way for them to see something off the marketing money the players generate. Really, it is.
But the idea of being able to just pack your bags and leave on a whim is stupid. It's dangerous And it's a bad idea. As I said earlier, yes, I know coaches do it and that's wrong on a whole other level that we can get into later.
Right now, let players play it out on the field. Let them try to earn a job on their respective teams. Let them learn to live with the impact of their decisions. Sure, they are kids and they may not always make the right choice, but that's part of life. It's part of the learning process.
Free agency each year in College Football is a bad idea. It's a bad look and it's dangerous for a game that has been inching closer and closer to being professional sport by the year.
That needs to stop.