College coaches griping about the transfer portal and NIL deals turning college athletics into the Wild West is the new salmon crudo, aka a dish that’s so popular and served so often that Padma and Tom made fun of its omnipresence during an episode of Top Chef.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney complained about it — the transfer portal, not salmon crudo, that dish is delicious — last week. Anonymous coaches took issue with it in February. Alabama coach Nick Saban and Georgia coach Kirby Smart had it in their crosshairs right before they faced off for the national title.
Complaining about re-recruiting your roster is as cliche as making a Will Smith slap joke, only if complaining about re-recruiting your roster was funny and never got old. (Seriously, I was crossing the street behind a group of snotty 10-year-olds the other day, and one of them said, “Keep my wife’s mouth out of your name” and I giggled along with them.)
Coaches aren’t wrong about the transfer portal creating a cutthroat atmosphere. Run through a few spring football stories and tell me you don’t get a free agency, same faces/new places feeling after reading a few of them.
Former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler came off like a journeyman in this piece about his move to South Carolina. This Kansas State story about QB Adrian Martinez, who came over from Nebraska, raves about him like Daryl Morey raving about acquiring James Harden. Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers is already “dropping dimes” during practice at his new stop in Austin.
There’s no point in sticking around at a school that can only offer tutelage under a starter and not instant gratification/baptism by snaps. Coaches technically can’t pay cash bonuses even though I’m sure recruits are well aware of where the good NIL deals are. (That’s not entirely true, schools have the ability to pay student-athletes bonuses for good grades, but only 22 of 130 FBS-level universities opted to do that this year, according to a study by ESPN.)
If the frivolous aspects of college life lose their novelty, the only incentives coaches have to offer are playing time and a path to the NFL. When one of those two things isn’t panning out the way the recruiter pitched it, the push-and-pull starts between those looking out for what’s best for a kid/urging a transfer and a coaching staff pleading for another chance.
Florida quarterback Emory Jones announced he was entering the transfer portal after the Gasparilla Bowl only to have new head coach Bill Napier coax him into returning. Napier’s argument to get Jones to stay consisted of the usual key points made by new hires.
It’s a “new culture” and a “new environment,” which Jones said was enough for him to buy in and trust the Gators again. These kinds of tired cases — the type kids probably heard many times during the recruiting process — occasionally work. But lately, more often than not, they’ve fallen on AirPod-filled ears. (UPDATE: Jones ended up transferring anyway.)
If only there was another form of currency to help these forlorn coaches retain their workforce, err student-athletes. What’s better than the promise of a potential payday? How about an actual payday. This piece is not solely about compensating free laborers who make universities millions of dollars, it’s also a solution for coaches looking to cut back on their workload. Paying players won’t eliminate the transfer portal entirely — there will always be a finite amount of reps and opportunity available — but it could offer coaches a world in which the grass isn’t consistently greener on another campus.
It’s unrealistic and unfair to think a rich-get-richer scenario won’t further widen the crevice between the Alabamas and the Vanderbilts, so how do you create a pay scale that rewards staying at a school and benefits players and coaches alike without declaring full-on capitalism?
Here’s my proposal that won’t ever be considered: Each freshman starts off with a base salary, say $25,000, and every year a player stays at a school, they get another $25,000. So a senior would make $100,000, a junior would net $75,000, and a sophomore would get $50,000. I just pulled $25,000 out of the air because it’s easy to do math with but you understand my point.
Here’s the catch, if a player transfers, the salary resets to a freshman level. I would throw in clauses for extenuating circumstances like if your coach gets fired, you can transfer without penalty — which also would make schools hesitant to cycle through staffs like a Tinder profile.
I don’t know about players following a coach who leaves for a higher paying job, as was the case with USC, Lincoln Riley, and Caleb Williams. Not that it matters, but I’m leaning toward, no, they should have to take a salary reset. (As long as I’m making up rules, though, how about if that happens, and a player follows a coach, the coach has to pay the difference. So Riley would owe Williams $25K out of his newly padded pockets each season Williams plays as USC.)
This idea isn’t fully thought out, but it’s one of thousands of potential solutions made possible by money.
People who say money doesn’t solve everything probably just have never been broke. And these coaches aren’t broke, which is probably why they’re more concerned about the transfer portal than whether the system that made them millionaires is ethical.