Uh-oh, this might be too much of a good thing.
Much has been written — here and elsewhere — about the transfer portal, which is drawing a crowd of opportunistic athletes. The portal has been largely celebrated because it provides freedom for college athletes to move to another school without penalty.
This makes sense. Other students can transfer to schools that they decide better meet their needs, so it’s also fair that athletes can transfer freely, right?
Look what has happened since Lincoln Riley left the head coaching job at Oklahoma to take the same position with USC (without having to enter the transfer portal).
- Travis Dye, Oregon’s leading rusher last season (1,271 yards, 46 catches), is transferring to USC.
- Oklahoma’s Mario Williams, considered the No. 1 prospect at wide receiver in 2021, is transferring to USC. He had 35 catches for 380 yards and four TDs last season as a freshman.
- Stanford running back Austin Jones, who has 13 touchdowns and almost 1,700 yards from scrimmage, is transferring to USC.
- Oklahoma cornerback Latrell McCutchin, a four-star recruit who played sparingly as a freshman in 2021, is transferring to USC.
- Colorado wide receiver Brenden Rice, who had 21 catches and three TDs as a freshman, is transferring to USC.
- Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, Caleb Williams, a strong NFL candidate who ran and passed for 2,354 yards and 27 touchdowns as a true freshman, is also believed to be headed to USC.
Per Fox Sports, USC already has added 10 transfers. Others could follow.
This isn’t good news for anyone who thinks competitive balance — parity — is essential for a sport (nor is it good news for Utah, the defending Pac-12 champ). The NFL goes to great lengths to achieve parity — the reverse draft order, the salary cap, contracts that bind players and teams, the waiver wire, compensatory picks, etc. It strives to spread the talent. This is one of the great flaws of the NBA, in which two or three teams are able to collect the superstars. LeBron James has built his career off stacking the deck in this manner.
The college game might be headed the same way with the creation of the portal three years ago. The game already has a system that favors half of the 10 conferences (the so-called Power Five). The transfer portal is pushing more chips to the same side of the table.
Already USC is considered one of the “best future bets” by Fox Sports’ Jason McIntyre, which would normally be surprising for a team that won just four games last season. The Trojans haven’t practiced or played a game yet and they’re already one of the teams to beat in the West. Riley doesn’t have to rebuild a team through high school and junior college recruiting; he just has to show up and collect developed, proven talent.
Similarly, Alabama, which has appeared in seven of the eight college football playoffs and won three of them, has landed three of the top 10 transfers — LSU’s best cornerback Eli Ricks, Georgia Tech’s best running back Jahmyr Gibbs, and Georgia’s top wide receiver, Jermaine Burton.
Since the end of the season, more than 2,000 FBS players have entered the portal — an average of 15.4 per school. It could have increasingly broad ramifications on college football.
“I hate it,” San Diego State coach Brady Hoke told the San Diego Union-Tribune recently. He has welcomed several new players this offseason via the portal — because he must in order to compete — but he believes the portal will ultimately turn the Group of Five conferences into a farm system for the Power Five conferences.
Combine all this with the creation of the NIL rule, which allows players to be paid for their name, image and likeness, and things really could get messy. As Union-Tribune writer Kirk Kenney noted, “Big-time boosters can basically identify an athlete they’d like to come to the school they support and compensate them as they see fit.”
The line between the professional and college games is getting thin, and it will also increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Looking ahead, Hoke told Kenney, “It becomes the Wild West, where you have guys bartering and using the NIL as part of that.”
At every level of sports — little league, high school, college and pros — it has been necessary to restrict player movement to some degree to preserve competitive balance. Has the college game opened Pandora’s box with the creation of the portal?