Chase Roberts talks NIL, transfer portal and his iconic catch
Much changed along the college football landscape during the two years the BYU receiver was serving his church mission, not that he’s complaining
Change is everywhere in college football, and nowhere will it be more noticeable than tonight at LaVell Edwards Stadium when BYU (3-1) faces Cincinnati (2-2) in the Cougars’ Big 12 home opener (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
Cougars on the air
at BYU (3-1)
Friday, 8:15 p.m. MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
Last year, both teams were elsewhere — the Cougars played as an independent and the Bearcats boasted of membership in the American Athletic Conference. Two years ago, prior to Texas and Oklahoma announcing plans to bolt the Big 12 for the SEC, there was little hope for either program to reach Power Five status — but here we are.
In addition to topsy-turvy conference expansions and contractions, the game of name, image and likeness, and the circus surrounding the transfer portal has pushed college football into a place where there is no return — and BYU sophomore receiver Chase Roberts is right in the middle of it.
When Roberts left on his two-year mission to Calgary, Alberta, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Cougars were landlocked as an independent. There was no transfer portal and paying players was still considered an infraction.
When he returned in 2021, the world was different.
“That’s college football,” Roberts told BYUtv’s “Gameday” program. “You have to adapt to what it is and what is happening.”
Roberts on NIL
Getting paid to play is no longer a jab at UNLV’s basketball program under Jerry Tarkanian in the 1980s. It is the business of the day, and it became the law of the land on July 1, 2021, when the NCAA allowed amateur athletes, like Roberts, to be compensated for use of their name, image and likeness.
The case study on its impact on football programs is limited by time, but the former American Fork High star likes how it’s playing out inside the BYU locker room.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is how it has brought us together. You would think it would tear us apart and we would focus on individuals and trying to get the most money we can,” Roberts said. “It’s been awesome to see all the walk-ons get taken care of and I think that has been the focus of the team.
“I think that’s why donors come in. They want to see us win and perform and not have to worry about those outside aspects of life. It’s been great to see NIL bring us together as a team and make us better football players.”
Roberts on the transfer portal
In addition to money becoming a game-changer in college sports, there is also the unbridled freedom of mobility that turned players loose when the NCAA approved the one-time transfer rule. Suddenly, after years of too much control, there wasn’t any at all. It was not unlike an airport where planes were allowed to take off and land without any guidance from the air traffic control tower.
BYU took advantage of the transfer portal to beef up its pre-Big 12 roster with 20 additions, including quarterback Kedon Slovis (Pitt), cornerback Eddie Heckard (Weber State) and linebacker AJ Vongphachanh (Utah State).
“We had a lot of transfers come into BYU and we love them,” Roberts said. “Whatever is happening with college football, it’s gonna keep evolving.”
As a new head coach at Colorado, Deion Sanders used both NIL and the portal to exercise an extreme makeover of the roster he inherited from a 1-11 team in 2022. When the dust finally settled, Sanders ousted 46 scholarship players and replaced them with his own — something that would have been impossible to pull off under the old rules.
“That’s life,” said Roberts, who had no problem watching the Buffaloes’ dynamic and unheard-of transformation. “That’s what is going to happen after football. There are going to be talented young guys that come into work, and they might take your position. That’s life. You have to fight and do your best and compete. It’s all about being the best version of yourself that you can be.”
Roberts on Roberts
Roberts leads the BYU receivers with 18 receptions for 227 yards and three touchdowns, with his most recent one-handed touchdown against Arkansas celebrated not only as the top play of the day on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” but also in the streets and playgrounds all over Cougar Nation.
“My son brought me the football the other night,” said Provo resident Jeff Bednar. “He asked me to throw it over his head so he could do a ‘Chase Roberts’ and make a one-handed catch.”
Roberts and 10-year-old Sam Bednar share more in common than just their presence inside Razorback Stadium on Sept. 16.
“When I was a little kid, I dreamed of moments like that to reach out and catch a ball with one hand,” Roberts said. “I used to say, ‘I’m gonna Collie-it’ when (Austin) Collie had some one-handed catches. So, it’s cool to see kids saying, ‘I’m gonna Chase Roberts the ball!’ That’s pretty cool.”
You can see Dave McCann’s interview with Chase Roberts on BYUtv’s “Gameday” tonight from 6-8:15 p.m. on BYUtv and ESPN Plus, including what Roberts wants the rest of college football to know about serving a two-year church mission.