Depending on whom you ask, Deion Sanders is either the best thing or the worst thing that has hit college football since the transfer portal. Last weekend Sanders and his Colorado Buffaloes shocked the sports world by beating the second-best team in the nation from a year ago — TCU, 45-42. This was after he had already spent the offseason shocking the sports world with his burn-down-the-roster approach as the team’s new coach.

For the record, Colorado won one game last season, losing by an average margin of 29 points. But this isn’t the same Colorado team. Sanders has turned college football on its head because he has driven off players en masse since arriving in Boulder last winter. He brought in 86 new players (70% of the roster), including 53 new transfers (more than half of them since spring practice ended), which is a record (and then some) for roster turnover. Only 10 scholarship players remain from last year.

This has brought criticism from every corner — from coaches, broadcasters, media. 

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, whose portal losses include NFL receiver Jordan Addison to USC and quarterback Kedon Slovis to BYU, complained about Sanders to 247Sports, saying,  “That’s not the way (the portal) was meant to be. That’s not what the rule intended to be. It was not to overhaul your roster. … (It) looks bad on college football coaches across the country ….  those kids that have moms and dads and brothers and sisters and goals in life — I don’t know how many of those 70 that left really wanted to leave or they were kicked in the butt to get out.”

To which Sanders correctly replied, “He is not mad at me, he is mad at the situation in football now …”

Exactly. The situation. Narduzzi says this was not the intention of the transfer portal, but where is that written? He says it was not intended to overhaul a roster, but where is that written? College football’s coaching community might be upset with Sanders, but he only did what the rules allowed, and he exploited them (the rules and rival coaches). Nobody with a brain thinks the transfer portal and the NIL — especially in combination — should be able to function as they do now, but no one has done anything about it except complain.

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Sanders took over a team that was terrible and turned college football’s wacky rules to his advantage, whether it was through the portal, the NIL, boosters, whatever. The rules allow coaches to take players from other schools, so he did. The rules allow players to transfer without penalty, so they transferred, undoubtedly with Sanders’ encouragement.

Sanders did everything out in the open. In his first meeting with his new team last winter, he told the players he was going to drive them out and he encouraged them to enter the portal. He said this with TV cameras rolling.

“Those of you we don’t run off, we’re going to try to make you quit,” he told the players.

If coaches don’t like the rules, they should tell their school presidents and conference commissioners to push for change, because college football is the Old West now and someone needs to take charge and rein things in.

If coaches and administrators want to pay the players, if they want to let them go where they choose when they choose, if they want boosters to have a say in where players go and what teams will win, if they want the top 25 to be determined by who has the most NIL money, if they want a former NFL quarterback to tweet a million-dollar offer to lure another school’s quarterback to his alma mater, if they want someone like Sanders to turn over almost an entire roster in a few months, then they should leave things as they are.

No one really raised much of an alarm last year when Lincoln Riley quit Oklahoma to become USC’s head coach and took several key players with him (and a total of 20 transfers from various schools), decimating OU (11-2 the previous year, 6-7 last year) and reversing USC’s fortunes (4-8 to 11-3).

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If college football aficionados are upset because Sanders is treating players like professionals, trading them freely, well, now they are professionals.

If those same people are lamenting the loss of team unity and loyalty to existing players, well, that all went out the window a long time ago, especially with the creation of the portal. Coaches have been bringing in players at the 11th hour for years and playing them over existing players who have waited their turn.

The line between the NFL and the college game is growing thin. The intent of today’s game is to make money, and to do that coaches must win. As Sanders put it, “… I don’t think you got to have unity whatsoever. You got to have good players.”

The timing for Sanders couldn’t have been better. He couldn’t have done what he has accomplished so far if not for the permissiveness of college football’s rules; he couldn’t have done this a few years ago. He has made the most of it and exposed college football’s many flaws. Team unity, building a team through training and recruiting, patience, coaching — all those things have been swept aside. A winning, ready-made team can be created overnight. That’s the world college football has created and Sanders is running with it.

TCU coach Sonny Dykes, left, and Colorado coach Deion Sanders shake hands after the Buffaloes victory Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. | LM Otero, Associated Press