I was covering Arkansas baseball a few years ago when I noticed a player on one SEC team had the same exact name as a guy who played the previous year at another SEC school.
Same guy, I was told.
That was before SEC baseball transfers were told they had to sit out a year toward eligibility like football and basketball players.
There is legislation that will allow all student-athletes in college to transfer one time without penalty. If passed, a college football player who doesn’t like his standing on the depth chart following spring practice, for instance, will have from May 1 to July 1 to find a new school. The proposal, developed by an NCAA Working Group on Transfers, is expected to be voted on and passed in January.
It’s increasingly clear there’ll be less stories like the one involving Bill Burnett, who was ninth on the depth chart at running back for Arkansas during spring practice before his sophomore year. Practice wasn’t going well for the offense one day when one of the coaches yelled for Burnett to put on a helmet and get on the field.
“Somebody poked me and said they had just said my name,” Burnett said. “I told them ‘no, surely they didn’t just say my name.’ But they did call for me. I had to dig and find my mouth guard because it had fallen. I got out there on the field. That’s when you say ‘the rest is history.’”
Burnett became a starter and eventually left college as one of the most productive running backs in the history of Arkansas football.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work the way kids want it to with opportunities to be starters in the beginning,” Burnett said. “If you keep on keeping on with hard work, good things happen. It happened for me.”
Obviously, many of today’s players don’t have that patience and the NCAA plans to give them even more reason to pack up and leave.
I’m not sure what name the NCAA will attach to the new rule but it’s clearly free agency like in professional sports. It’ll be without the wads of money, of course, because the NCAA still prefers to maintain some semblance of amateurism even as it prepares to allow star athletes to profit off their name and likeness.
My goodness, I didn’t realize college athletes on scholarship had it so badly, especially with the free education and name recognition that’ll look good on any resume. But, hey, if we’re going to do free agency, let’s do it right.
Allowing players to announce transfer plans beginning May 1 will make media outlets like ESPN and Fox Sports very happy. Much like national signing day, ESPN and Fox Sports can devote a whole day on TV with reporters pushing disgruntled players to the microphone to announce their transfer plans.
Who knows, maybe ESPN and Fox Sports can convince players to take off the uniform of their current team and put on the uniform from the school they plan to transfer. Silly? Of course. But show me something currently on TV that isn’t silly, everything from the Masked Singer to the political blowhards on cable.
Players have to be academically in good standing to qualify for a transfer, but this immediate-eligibility proposal is a major step toward providing more flexibility for student-athletes. Most are OK with it. Others are not, especially college coaches who must juggle rosters that change every year.
“We have seen kids that have entered the transfer portal and haven’t been on campus for a semester,” Penn State football coach James Franklin told ESPN when the topic was raised before the season. “How do you learn to overcome adversity and fight through battles and learn to compete? I worry about that for our sport.”
Mark Richt, an analyst and former college coach, also expressed concerns about the idea on his Twitter page.
“You recruit and develop players and when I think they’re good enough I will poach them from your roster,” Richt tweeted. “Welcome to what the new normal will look like in college football!”
College coaches no longer have the stranglehold on players they once had, and that’s a good thing. There are legitimate reasons why college athletes transfer, including ones with family matters who need to be closer to home. One thing is for certain, regardless of the circumstances.
The transfer portal no one even heard of a few years ago will be fitted with swinging doors and explode with players rushing through looking for a free pass.