The Heisman Trophy Has Entered The Transfer Portal

With the end of the college football regular season, the transfer portal has opened. People have called this college football free agency, and many people don’t like it, as they feel it’s ruining the game of college football and creating a non-stop recruiting cycle. I, on the other hand, disagree, as this move puts the power in the hands of the players, where it belongs. The NCAA has also put in guardrails to prevent a free for all. Players used to be able to enter the transfer portal at any time, but now there are specific windows where they can enter the portal. They have 45 days from the announcement of the playoff to enter, and an additional window from May 1 to May 15. Players who have graduated, whose team has fired their head coach, or had their athletic aid cut are still able to enter at any time. Additionally, Ivy League athletes who have graduated with remaining athletic eligibility can enter at any time in their 4th academic year, as the Ivy League does not allow redshirting or athletic participation by graduate students.

Players have transferred every year in college football, but those transfers used to come with restrictions. Most notably, unless the player graduated and still had eligibility remaining, or there were extenuating circumstances, they had to sit out for a year at their new school before they could play. Not only would they have to sit out a year, but their old school was allowed to put restrictions on where the player could transfer to, unless the player forfeited his scholarship and paid his own way at his new school.

After the 2008-09 season, Robert Marve wanted to transfer out of the University of Miami (FL). He was initially prohibited from transferring to any school in the ACC, SEC, or the state of Florida (including mid-majors UCF and USF). In 2013, Wes Lunt wanted to transfer out of Oklahoma State, but coach Mike Gundy initially prohibited him from transferring to schools in the Big 12, Pac-12, and the SEC. In other cases, a player was ineligible for a scholarship at their new school. When Justin Boren transferred from Michigan to Ohio State after the 2007-08 season following a coaching change at Michigan, he was ineligible to receive a scholarship at Ohio State, as Big Ten rules at the time prohibited a player who transferred from one Big Ten school to another from receiving a scholarship at his new school.

Meanwhile, coaches who are paid millions can freely move from one job to another, without any consequences (except for a buyout of their contract to their old school, which the new school might pay). When Tommy Tuberville was the coach at Texas Tech, he left a group of recruits in the middle of a dinner to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati. He didn’t have to sit out a year, and wasn’t prohibited by Texas Tech from taking the Cincinnati job. He simply paid them the $900,000 buyout his contract required and he was free to leave. Last year, Brian Kelly left Notre Dame for head coach job at LSU, and Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for USC. Even worse, the playoff hadn’t been announced, and Notre Dame was in contention for a spot when Kelly left. The playoff committee said that that could be held against them. Neither coach was restricted by their previous school where they could go, and they both left before their team’s bowl games. Which leads to my next point.

I wrote last week that players not in the playoff are opting out of bowl games to protect their health and their NFL draft stock. Many of the players transferring are also leaving their teams before their bowl games. Many of these players are backups who don’t have a viable path to significant playing time at their current school, so they transfer elsewhere in search of more playing time and a better opportunity to build their stock for the NFL, and don’t want to risk injury. Additionally, a few years ago the NCAA passed a rule that you can play in 4 games in a season and still take a redshirt and not lose a year of eligibility.

Many players who leave have played in 4 games during the regular season, and are leaving before the bowl game to keep that extra season for their new school. And now with players able to make NIL money, if they’re a fringe NFL prospect, instead of going to the NFL with college eligibility remaining, transferring somewhere where they can get more exposure can potentially net them more money in NIL than an NFL contract, not to mention they’d probably be on the bubble for NFL roster cuts, and without a job. Why should these players be restricted from seeking better opportunity? If you got offered a job from a competitor that was a better opportunity, how would you feel if your current employer said you can’t take it? You probably wouldn’t be too happy.

Lastly, as I said in the beginning, until last year, players had to sit out a year before playing at their new school. The NCAA did away with this rule and now Division I football players can transfer and play immediately at their new school. Opponents of the transfer portal said the requirement to sit out a year was a good thing as it forced players to tough it out and deal with some adversity instead of jumping where the grass might appear to be greener, as this would prepare them better for NFL life or a real job. I disagree, because Division II and Division III athletes, along with athletes in other Division I sports were allowed to transfer and play right away. Why should the football players be subject to a different set of rules?

Ultimately, these moves put the power in the hands of the players, where it belongs. These players want to play in the NFL, and that’s not going to happen while they sit on the bench. Just like the coaches are doing what’s best for them, so are the players when they transfer. Just in the last 5 years, we’ve seen several marquee players transfer, play immediately, and have success at their new schools. After losing the starting job at Alabama, Jalen Hurts transferred to Oklahoma. Justin Fields transferred from Georgia to Ohio State. Both of them were Heisman finalists in 2019. The Heisman winner that year, Joe Burrow, was also a transfer. He transferred to LSU from Ohio State. All 3 of them were backups at their old schools with NFL aspirations, and all 3 of them were eventually first round draft picks. The Heisman winner this year, Caleb Williams, transferred from Oklahoma to USC, to follow his coach and play in a system he already knew. None of these success stories would have happened had they been required to sit out a year and/or had restrictions on where they could transfer to.


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