Locker Room: The “new normal” for college football?

As of this writing, and I say that because the number is almost certain to go up, there are over 200 college football players in the “transfer portal.” When this vehicle was created, no way did anyone think the result would be of this magnitude.

We talked last week that there are four areas of recruitment now. Three under graduate. 1- The standard recruitment of players out of high school. 2- Recruiting players from junior college who failed to qualify coming out of high school. 3- Recruiting standard transfers who have to sit out a year, or use their redshirt year to retain eligibility. And now you have the “Grad Transfer.” If a player has enough credits to qualify for graduation and say he has one or two years left of eligibility, he can transfer to another school and be eligible immediately.

The reality is that’s right, but it’s also wrong. The bottom line is college coaching staffs now have to recruit their players every single year because the option they might leave has become very available, and how does this effect coaching? How do you discipline a player who might get mad and transfer on any day? How do you control your program? How do you structure? How about a plan for the future? What do you say to a player who says if I do not start I’m leaving? It is a new world, and like much of life these days, the “new normal” doesn’t seem normal at all.

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente has taken a lot of heat the past week, and there is certainly reason for concern. Things in Blacksburg don’t look right. Fuente is going to have to restore the Hokie fans’ trust in the program. There are questions, concerns, and they are justifiable, however, there are questions and concerns across the country in college football. Certainly more so with some programs than others, but the concern for the future and how this new transfer stuff is going to work out is not a local issue. Every year you recruit a new class, but now you are going to have to recruit the same classes over and over and if you think that will take some of fun out of coaching you would be correct.

Nobody dies for dear old U of what anymore. You can talk about how great your program is, how loyal the fans are, and how great the tradition is, and a hundred other things. But the new “transfer portal” system has made it obvious. All the players may not feel that way at all. In fact, it may be play me or I’m leaving. Under such a situation, I’m not sure I would want to be a college coach, or how about you’ll need to pay me a bunch.

Yes, Virginia Tech at this point has the second highest number of players leaving its program in the country and that’s not a good look. But I believe the Hokies have a good chance to get things under control. Other than Notre Dame, I can see them possibly winning every game on the schedule next season. Sure, at Virginia will not be a picnic I promise you. Pitt will not be an easy win either. Miami you don’t know. The turmoil down there is every bit equal to Tech, and there’s a head coaching change too.  I believe Fuente will get things settled down, the schedule will help him, however, it doesn’t look like things are likely to stay normal at most college programs for very long anymore.

Who leads the way in transfers leaving their program? How about Penn State? Is that a surprise? It was to be me, but 11 Nittany Lions are transferring. The Hokies are next with 10, and again, that’s a bit embarrassing, but also may not be catastrophic. Just wait and see what the product on the field looks like next season. There is no alternative anyway. But the transfer plague is everywhere. There are six at Tennessee, five at Texas, Michigan, UCLA, Southern Cal, and three at Oklahoma and Ohio State. USC lost a player to transfer before he even graduated from high school! Somebody tell me that’s supposed to be the way it is.

Much of this change in making a transfer more available came about because players said they felt exploited. Coaches leave programs for jobs at bigger programs, more money, and all that. Players didn’t get to. However, a coach is making a living. He’s paying for a house, maybe cars, taking care of his wife and children. He has obligations just like the rest of us. His program responsibilities are enormous. If he is not successful, he will likely get fired. You would probably make the same kind of decisions they do. I would.

I’ve been around coaches most all my life. Almost all of them know X’s and O’s. They want to win. They want to have good discipline and character in their programs. Their motivation and the things they stress to their players are the same. Does anybody really think that the head coach at Vandy cares less and stresses things differently than Nick Saban at Alabama? The lessons coaches try to teach, and the fundamentals of the game, and how to be successful don’t chance much. The major difference is the talent level of who are you coaching? I am very impressed with Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney. He can teach his players the hard way. That’s how he grew up. Nothing ever came easy for Sweeney, but you may not be a fan of the Clemson program. You might be a die-hard Wake Forest fan. Now whose players do you want to coach, Clemson’s or Wake’s. That’s the bottom line. That’s what we’re talking about.

And the players who say they are exploited? Like everything else, that assumption is blown way out of proportion. I submit this. You get a free education. You get free tutoring if you need it. You get the absolute best health care free of charge. You get coached and provided everything you need to enhance yourself as a football player and as an athlete. You get the best food in the world and plenty of it and your nutrition is even supervised. On top of the four or five years of free food, health care and all the rest, you get to see the land. You get free travel and the awareness you gain from the experiences and things you see and do are invaluable. Most of the athletes likely go places, see things, do things, and experience a lifestyle that is only a pipe dream to 95% of all the young people in this country. If all that doesn’t matter, than the statement is that education and all the opportunities it brings no longer matters in collegiate athletics. Is that what everybody really wants?

I get the hard work. I understand the time investment, the demands. I know about the aches and pains, the sweat, and all that. But when you add up everything that is provided and the opportunities that are presented that is of immense value, to say you are being exploited is a bit of a reach in this opinion. There are thousands of young people that would love to be a victim of such “exploitation” which is little more than a too often used political term in this opinion.

It would appear to me that nobody has a gripe anymore. The “exploitation” appears to be going both ways.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot