In some ways, college athletics are becoming more and more like professional sports every day.
Thanks to the recently passed laws that allow college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness, recruiting and player retention can sometimes more closely resemble a bidding war than a battle of which coaching staff connects with a player the most. If a player feels like they aren’t raking in as much money as they deserve, they can attempt to transfer to a school with better NIL resources that can meet their demands.
They’re also allowed to hire certain types of agents that can help them negotiate NIL deals, a fact that became national news last month when Miami basketball player Isaiah Wong’s representatives threatened a transfer if he didn’t receive better compensation. Wong eventually decided to remain at Miami.
That never-ending-bidding-war dynamic is often mentioned as one of the biggest unintended consequences of NIL legislation and the rule that allows players to transfer once without having to sit out a year.
So, as Florida football coach Billy Napier tries to adjust to the uncharted waters facing the sport, he’s begun studying how the NFL conducts business.
“There’s no manual for this in college football,” Napier said. “I’ve been studying the National Football League because I think there are some things to learn. Every player on our team who hasn’t transferred before is a free agent every year. That’s the one thing that we lack that the National Football League has. There is free agency, but there is no salary cap, and there is no contractual obligation.”
Napier added that while there are some players who transfer purely because of money, that’s not the case for everybody. Other factors such as playing time, academics, proximity to home and relationships with the coaches will still play a large role. Those are the things that his program will focus on. They’re not going to engage in bidding wars for portal players.
“We don’t operate that way, if that makes sense,” he said. “I think that NIL is a portion of the decision. I think a lot of times when you really dig into why is the player leaving where he’s at, there are other factors. All these situations are case-by-case. You’ve got to evaluate each situation independent of all the others, and I think we’re finding ourselves much like an NFL team during free agency.”
Of course, NIL is a constantly evolving topic. A year ago, players mostly took advantage of it by selling custom merchandise. Now, it’s playing a role in the player acquisition process. There’s no telling where things might stand five years from now.
“There’s a lot of grey area here relative to representation, what I can say, what I can’t say, what the third party can do, what they can’t do,” Napier said. “Right now, we’re living in a land with no laws.”
Pearsall a proven playmaker
During the spring, Napier said that the Gators would be active in the portal during the summer and potentially land a handful of players.
With most of the offseason portal movement seemingly done, the Gators have only added one transfer, but he’s a really good one.
Receiver Ricky Pearsall led Arizona State with 48 catches for 580 yards and four touchdowns last season. He’s the type of quick and shifty playmaker that UF’s receiving corps lacked in the spring. He can use his speed to either blow past defenders during his route or turn a short throw into a big gain by making defenders miss in the open field. He could also be an option as a returner for the Gators this fall.
Napier is glad to have Pearsall onboard.
“Each individual situation is case-by-case,” he said. “We felt like Ricky’s skillset fit our team, fit our offense. We had some familiarity. There were some relationships there because of the year [I spent] at Arizona State, some of the staff members, some of the common relationships. I think Ricky’s a good person. I think he’s competitive. I think that he’s proved himself. He’s been a very productive player.
“I think he can get open. I think he can catch the ball. He’s proved to be a run-after-catch player. I think he’s got some toughness to his game. He can play on special teams. We’re adding a player that has had a ton of production in the past, and we feel like the player can help our team.”
Napier staying out of Saban vs. Fisher controversy
Perhaps the biggest storyline of the offseason so far has been the verbal sparring match between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher that occurred last week.
To recap, in an interview prior to a speaking engagement, Saban expressed his frustrations with finishing second in recruiting to a program that “bought every player on their team.”
Fisher, a former Saban assistant, responded by calling a last-minute press conference the following morning where he vehemently denied Saban’s allegations and returned fire by attacking the way that Saban runs his program.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey issued both coaches a public reprimand for their comments and prevented Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin from weighing in on the drama on a radio show.
On Thursday, Napier, another former Saban assistant, joked about the situation but avoided getting himself caught up in the controversy.
“People were tuned into that,” he said. “I think that’s worthy of a subscription or viewership. Both are very accomplished. Both are passionate. Both are competitive. I think that it is what it is. I think we’ll leave that between them. I certainly don’t want to get in the middle of that conversation.”
Napier not sold on NCAA legislation that removes initial counter caps
Last week, the NCAA announced that teams will be free to add as many players to their rosters as they want for the next two academic years, provided that they don’t go over the limit of 85 total scholarship players. Previously, teams were limited to 25 new players per year.
The intent behind the rule is to allow new coaching staffs to rebuild their rosters more easily. It’s become common to see a mass exodus of players following a coaching change, as players either want to continue playing for their old coaches or simply don’t like the way that they fit in under the new staff.
So, those new coaching staffs could sign the maximum of 25 players for several years in a row and still be below the 85-scholarship threshold, an obvious competitive disadvantage. It had gotten to the point where making a coaching change was basically the equivalent of a self-induced probation.
By removing the 25-player cap, the hope is that teams will be able to replenish their depth more quickly and perhaps become competitive right away.
Napier, though, doesn’t necessarily see this rule change playing out that way. In his mind, more signees leads to more competition, which will in turn lead to more disgruntled players looking for a change in scenery.
“I do think it’s going to cause more attrition,” he said. “I think it’s going to cause more portal. We think we’re fixing it, but, in reality, I don’t necessarily know if that’s the case.”
As far as the Gators are concerned, Napier doesn’t plan to clean house and bring in an entirely new set of players any time soon. He believes that the players that they have on the roster now have some potential. They don’t need to replace half of the roster over the next offseason.
“Maybe it gives us a little bit more flexibility, but it gives everybody else more flexibility, too,” Napier said. “I think a lot of it has to do with ‘How do you feel about your roster relative to the depth, relative to the discipline, relative to the character?’ I think it does give us some flexibility. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
“I’m very hopeful of the group that we’re working with now. We’ve got a lot of young men that are doing it the way that we expect them to, that are working extremely hard, trying to improve, trying to make changes in their lives, trying to learn, trying to create habits. That’s where we’re at. We have a lot to learn information-wise but, in my opinion, a lot to learn about how to live life on a daily basis. This summer’s going to create great opportunities to continue to teach and implement and establish expectations.”