The landscape in College Basketball has changed drastically over the last few years. As transfers ticked up, the NCAA created the Transfer Portal which allowed collegiate athletes to announce their intention to transfer schools and be contacted by new schools.
The transfer portal changed the game. Players and coaches were now more transient than ever. Then under a COVID year, when recruiting and relationships and development all hit the skids, the portal went crazy. After the 2021 season there was a record number of transfers out, including 72 in the SEC alone. There are 13 scholarships on a Men’s College Basketball roster and 14 teams in the SEC, which means nearly 40% of those players transferred. For a sport that deals with natural attrition by graduation, that number looms even larger. By my count we’re down to just 38 this year (there’s still time).
I don’t expect to see the number reach 72, but if it hit 50 it wouldn’t be surprising.
Then last summer Name, Image, & Likeness laws were passed for the first time for college athletes. It allowed any NCAA athlete to do what their non-athlete classmates could always do, profit off their likeness. The combination of NIL laws going into effect and the transfer portal turned College Basketball on its head.
As someone who has long been a proponent of athlete rights, the portal and NIL laws were good things. But even then, this still felt different:
It’s been known for a while now that Missouri was likely to lose Trevon Brazile at the end of the year. As early as December, I’d heard there was a distinct possibility he would go into the portal once the season wrapped up. It didn’t matter who was going to be on the sidelines, they were going to face a steep uphill battle to keep Brazile on the roster. Cuonzo Martin or Dennis Gates. That part didn’t really matter.
Brazile leaving is one thing. We were prepared.
Brazile leaving for Arkansas is another. I hope he fully understands what this decision means. I’m going to try to be as delicate with this decision as I can, but college fans are different in how they demand loyalty. After all, Mizzou fans bandy about the term “True Son” and apply it where earned. And they aren’t alone in their revelry for loyalty to their school.
But in a new era of College Basketball the lines have been blurred to the point where it’s barely recognizable. Players bounce from professional club to professional club and switch jerseys and sign with rivals all the time. And that’s what College Basketball is right now.
Arkansas is bought in, literally. Missouri is still working on getting there.
Players choose schools for a variety of reasons, but to ignore the impact of NIL deals and how it plays out in recruiting is naive. Yet here we are, most sports writers acting like Alabama and Arkansas are just out-recruiting virtually everyone. And while writers and commenters are going to give Eric Musselman and Nate Oats credit, hardly anyone is bringing up the financial structure of the NIL organizations which is helping the players profit, and these new-money programs strike gold.
That isn’t to dismiss what Oats and Muss have done. But if there ever was a reminder of the structural challenges Missouri faces in a league with deep pockets and a willingness to dig deep into them, this is it.
Mizzou is playing catch up. One of the reasons Mun Choi felt the need to move on from Jim Sterk is he was looking for an Athletic Director with a little more foresight. Someone who is more of a forward thinker. It’s easy to read into the events of the last few years as a bit more of an indictment on Sterk and his preparedness to lead Missouri into these new uncharted waters. Desiree Reed-Francois is tasked with catching Missouri up. She’s working towards assembling a more robust setup regarding NIL than what was previously in place. But it takes time.
If anything, this allows us to reset expectations with a new coach coming into a changing landscape, while operating from behind. Dennis Gates can establish a floor and help bide some time while Missouri raises the ceiling on the rent. Whether or not they can catch up is a good question, but knowing the starting point and what you’re up against is at least part of it. Arkansas isn’t messing around. Neither is a good portion of the rest of the SEC.
In the meantime, I hope people aren’t too hard on Brazile. After all, he is from Springfield, MO which, if you’ve been there, you know it’s more Arkansas than Missouri. I don’t mean that as a slight, I have family down there after all. It’s just that there are a lot of Hogs fans, and probably as many - if not more - than Missouri fans. Not to mention, Fayetteville is actually closer to Springfield than Columbia is.
Brazile is just the most recent reminder of what the new landscape looks like. Where your favorite teams under-recruited or undiscovered high-riser, your NBA talent, is ripe for the picking from someone willing to give them more. Brazile is no different than the myriad of transfers who leave the Sun Belt or the MAC for the riches of the SEC. He’s just walking away from Missouri for the riches a few miles south.