Seeing as college football bowl season now doubles as open season on potential transfers due to the NCAA’s new transfer windows, part of the buildup to the bowl games is addressing rumors. North Carolina’s Drake Maye has been the subject of speculation, and even his own head coach helped fuel them.
Maye certainly didn’t play like an impending departure was hanging over his head in the Holiday Bowl against Oregon on Wednesday night. Yes, the Tarheels blew a 13-point lead, but that had more to do with Mack Brown taking the points over going for the jugular on a fourth-and-goal from the two in the fourth quarter.
Of course the Ducks ended up winning, 28-27, on a doinked-in extra point, but that’s not the point. The point is Maye played pretty well — as he has all season — and even though he’s not eligible for the NFL Draft yet, his performance this year has been good enough to garner an alleged $5 million NIL deal to fill a void elsewhere. The homegrown Heel has said he’s not exchanging Carolina Blue for another school’s colors, so kudos to him.
Farther west in the state, though, that’s another story. Wake Forest is coming off one of the more successful runs in Winston-Salem history, and Sam Hartman, the longtime quarterback, put his name in the portal. He has 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns for his career in black and old gold, but it looks like any other numbers he amasses will come as a Golden Domer, with reports slotting him for South Bend. There’s no rumored pay bump, but I’m sure being QB1 at Notre Dame has its perks and NIL deals.
That’s concerning for many reasons, but the main one is fans of have-nots are increasingly losing their shit because not only are the blueblood programs poaching their coaches, but now they’re trying to poach players, too. Being an actual Triple-A club for the teams that you can’t compete with already has me on tilt, and the school I root for isn’t at risk of that fate. At least not yet. (I hope.)
Look, I get it. No one is going to lose sleep over the Demon Deacons. They’re not a traditional football powerhouse, and they followed up an 11-win season with an eight-win campaign. If Hartman wants to spend his last season of college ball at Notre Dame competing for a spot in the playoff, that’s cool.
It’s just really messed up now that anytime a quarterback outperforms his program, he’s immediately a target for a big school without a signal caller because of the free agency bonanza that the portal has created.
Maye had a dalliance with Alabama during the recruiting process before eventually ending up in Chapel Hill, and considering the Tide will be without projected top three pick Bryce Young after the Sugar Bowl, the machine must churn on. They lost twice on crazy endings, and the grip has slipped so much that Jalen Milroe, who looked dynamic in fill-in duty for Young, is a risk. One of the biggest vulnerabilities of top programs is turnover, and while you can give every other position reps, quarterbacks are the big unknown. So why not go after a proven commodity if available?
And since universities can’t technically offer a huge “contract extension,” there’s little to no incentive for athletes to remain loyal. Disgruntled 19-year-olds aren’t the only ones looking for greener pastures. The exposure, opportunities, and situation in Tuscaloosa are as alluring for star players at small schools as South Beach was to LeBron James. (Small market, small school, same difference.)
If only there was a way to entice your best players to stay put — you know, something like a pay raise. While I didn’t have to tie this all back to paying an unpaid workforce, it’s fun and, as it happens, is at least one way to keep big bank from always taking little bank.