I read an article yesterday at TheAthletic.com with the headline: Tampering Confidential: In college football, it’s inevitable and impossible to stop
Impossible to stop, they say! Oh well. I better read what this is about!
Let me begin by just highlighting a few of my favorite quotes, all from anonymous College Football coaches:
These coaches want to believe the ideals of college football program building — relationships, trust, culture — still matter today. But those who have been burned by transfer tampering in recent years tend to arrive at an unnerving conclusion.
“It certainly crosses your mind that we’re becoming a Triple-A farm system type of thing,” one Group of 5 general manager said. “That’s where we’re possibly heading.”
Well that’s one way to look at it.
“It’s bulls—,” he said. “That’s just being dumb. The whole thing is a complete joke. And it’s also happening with the agent calling the collective. Or it’s going through the high school assistant. It’s all of the above.”
“Most of the really good players aren’t going into the portal without knowing where they’re going. They already have a home.”
“We actually only have ourselves to blame,” he said, “because now we have this system that has agents and the collectives be part of this process. I don’t blame the student-athlete. I hate when people say kids have changed. They really haven’t. It’s us as adults. We’ve changed. We’ve changed the rules on them. It’s such a cop-out to say the kids have changed. Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe the third parties have always been very involved in this. But now they’re much more out there and it’s easier for them to be involved.”
“I’m not gonna talk out of both sides of my mouth when it comes to the players,” he said. “I left a really good job at one program for another really good job at another program. Well, the second place paid me more money than the first. It was better for me and better for my family.
“In the world we live in right now, either you win or you kick rocks, man.”
Yeah, there we go. The realization. “This is what we’ve built.”
Few things make me laugh more than anonymous coaches, most of whom are very well compensated, complaining about player agency.
Everyone has a love/hate relationship with the transfer portal. But my biggest issue with these sorts of pieces is they never talk about how this came to be. Tampering didn’t begin with the transfer portal, or NIL for that matter. For decades, and really since the advent of college sports, coaches have taken many paths to gain an advantage. Just yesterday a Junior College baseball coach resigned after getting caught putting communication devices inside players’ batting helmets.
Cheating has been rampant since the first dollar in revenue was collected, and programs have long searched for the advantage. Wealthier programs, sometimes called blue bloods due to some early investments and some lucky bounces, have been willing to go further and longer. And for the most part, players were cut out of the revenue streams, leaving a gray market for their services.
But at no point was there a real market for talent, just the gray market of under the table payments. Now, the only real market is NIL.
But there is a solution to this NIL/Portal madness, and colleges, coaches, and the NCAA don’t want to talk about it. It’s called a contract.
Coaches want players to be employees. They want to control player agency. And, well, you can do that if you admit that players are employees and you just sign them to contracts. Name, Image, and Likeness is the least of it. All it does, or at least should be doing, is allows players to control who they are and how they are marketed. But in a lot of ways it’s being used in lieu of player contracts.
Every major sport in the United States has a players union, and players are under contract. If college sports would just move to this model, admit that players are employees, the transient nature within the portal would go away.
Sure the transfer portal would still exist. But the same way professional sports have waivers. You want to move a player out of your program under contract? Negotiate a buyout! Are you not sure if you like a player enough to keep them around for four years? Negotiate a 2 year deal, with incentives!
The entire structure for this exists already. The NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL and more have created a system where a players union negotiates with the owners to set a standard for what can and cannot be allowed in the contracts. Both sides negotiate an agreement. Then agents work for their clients to get a fair deal.
If coaches want more control... this is the answer. If you don’t want a player to leave for the transfer portal, then have them under contract.
I realize that contracts for different NCAA schools would look different. For example, a Division 3 school, or even a low major program, is going to look very different than a program like Georgia or Alabama. I also don’t think you need to make it all that complicated.
Coaches at the higher levels make a lot of money. As the levels go down, they make less. So schools can pay what they can afford. If you can’t afford anything more than the cost of a scholarship, that’s the contract. If you’re a player who wants more agency, don’t sign a 4 year contract for the cost of a scholarship. Instead you can sign a one or two year deal. This is where things will inevitably end up. The sooner we get there the better for players and coaches.
But until schools start putting players under contract, you’re going to have coaches complaining about the system they’ve which has been built over decades. At the expense of paying players what they’re worth. Right now we’re just living in the backswing of the course correction.