Dabo Swinney, Champion of All Things Amateur, launched a rant against the current state of the NCAA transfer portal at Clemson’s signing day event earlier today. Swinney made his position on paying student athletes clear several years ago when he publicly stated that he would quit training if college athletes ever got paid. Well, here we are, and most importantly, it’s still here. Today’s complaint was about this year’s incredibly comprehensive transfer portal in what appears to be an extension of Swinney’s campaign to Keep College Football Amateur.
It is not that Swinney’s claim was completely wrong. He stressed his belief that the transfer cycle will reduce graduation rates in all college football, which stood just below 80 percent for bowling teams in 2020. He may be right: with transferred credits and schools that change, there is less focus on the academic piece of student athlete life. Do you have the same problem, though, with students leaving early for the draft without graduating? If not, the problem lies not in the concept of graduation rate, but in the fact that student athletes who give up on what is currently seen as the “right way” to do it in college football: put your head down, grind, and hope to see some playing time when the manager calls.
The NIL changes this (which Dabo may have foreseen), with different schools offering students different opportunities. And this is seen as a negative development by some influential figures in sport rather than being recognized for what it is: an inevitable change. And change is difficult, but complaining won’t reverse it. Coaches will have to learn how to work with this – it’s just another recruiting tool, like high-money schools shelling out blank checks for facilities and perks. And if earning coaches like Swinney aren’t able to adapt to this new era, they probably shouldn’t be earning that kind of money.
When Swinney says he disagrees with coaches “manipulating the youth” and “tampering with” the system, I’m confused about what he thinks is different about the relocation situation than the normal recruiting process for high school kids? Many coaches make promises that don’t come true. You wanna talk about manipulation, how about Brian Kelly eating three portions of barbecue at a rookie’s house an hour before the news he was taking a new job? With his suggestion of blasting transfer students for a year of eligibility they get after graduation, Swinney removes some of the decision-making power from the hands of student athletes for … what? His view of the way things are Should to be? His contempt for athletes who are not happy to play reserve? His fear of the transfer portal as a recruiting tool available to his rivals?
Of course, there is an unorthodox amount of athletes in the transfer portal this year. But when the changes come, there is no need to spell out the disaster. Perhaps giving student athletes more independence and autonomy will prove to be a real advantage in college football. These guys, after all, are choosing to play a sport that puts their body and mind at serious risk. While I agree, of course, that coaches should build character and encourage personal and athletic growth, there is a line that should be drawn between training and control. Commitments come and go in high school, verbal and written, and no one blinks when 18-year-olds make such a meaningful decision. But when they are 20 and want to see some time off the bench, suddenly it’s a problem that there are no “consequences” to their decisions, as Swinney said this morning.
With the amount in this day and age that is required of student athletes – and with the extra games that will no doubt be added to their schedules as the playoffs expand over the next few years – punishing a player for choosing what he believes is the best decision for him at the moment is not the way to go, academics aside. Coaches and schools should give student athletes the resources they need to make these decisions for themselves and be able to see the long-term effects of earning a degree, but pretend it’s all some kind of football snub. college is ridiculous. This sport is ridiculous. These kids basically work full time and go to school.
And if Swinney is right about the transfer portal, it will work on its own. Athletic students will learn the hard way that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, if so. There is the learning experience he wants. And if the grass is, in fact, greener on the other side – if the transfer portal works to an athlete’s advantage – why punish or limit him? He has the right to transfer schools as much as any other university student in this country if he feels that a place is not suitable for him.
I believe Dabo’s heart is in the right place: he wants the best for the development of student athletes, but he also wants the best for his program. And as much as he is notoriously avoidant of the transfer portal, one wonders if he doesn’t feel anxious about having to adapt to a new recruiting system.