By David Parker
Well anyone who thought that the conclusion of the Peach Bowl and aftermath signaled the end of football season, was sorely mistaken. It seems Florida has had more football activity after the season was put to rest than it did when the season was alive. It’s kind of like Elvis, who was seen in public 100-times more often after he was dead than when he was alive. So let’s discuss a few things.
It’s a portal, but to where?
I guess it was inevitable. Every change seems to trigger the reaction from some corner of humanity that it will invoke the proverbial slippery slope and before we know it, everything about the known universe will be ruined. Maybe that’s overstating it a tad, but the new transfer portal has done just that, signaling the beginning of the end of college football as we know it to some, sure to be an opening of flood gates every year.
I see the argument, but I think as always, the slippery slope will be just no more than a little step. If the NCAA watches its step with college football, it shouldn’t be detrimental. Of course, expecting the NCAA to behave intelligently, let alone rationally, is usually a stretch.
The biggest fallacy is that the transfer portal will or has changed college football, and that the portal itself will lead to its ultimate downfall (or at least *a* downfall of some proportion). But, let’s be clear: at a high level, the transfer portal isn’t really a thing. That is, at a high level, all it is is a list. A central repository of names of players who may or may not be interested in transferring. A list is not going to change college football.
But at a granular level, the portal does obviously do something. It alerts other schools to who is available for transfer, and being on the list permits contact from those schools. Once in the portal, the player can transfer…or not. Other programs can contact them…or not. In other words, the end game has not changed at all; the portal just takes a lot of leg work out of it for the players, and by proxy, the programs. Previous to the portal, a player would have to reach out individually to teams in which he is interested. Now that awareness is automated. It would still be done, but now it’s just easier.
But there is one big difference made through the portal: players no longer need to ask their school’s permission to talk to other schools about transferring, as they did before October of last year. And interested schools no longer have to ask permission once a name is in the portal. Players don’t even have to tell their coaches. They can just notify their compliance department to put their name in the portal, and they have to do it within two days. While that may seem like a big thing, it really isn’t, for a number of reasons.
Firstly because it almost never happens that a school refuses the request to talk to other schools if a player announces he wants to transfer. The school could put restrictions on what schools they can transfer to, but they never stopped them from reaching out because they would just bolt anyway, and once they leave school, they are free to talk to anyone they want. No school wants the kind of bad PR it would get by enforcing that sort of abject cruelty out of pettiness. Schools could block selected other programs from talking to them, and from granting them a scholarship, thus blocking their transfer there (walk on notwithstanding) for two years. But even this practice was rare and when enforced has always been limited to banning transfer to conference teams or teams they will play during their eligibility. When Bill Snyder banned transfer to over 30 teams to an outgoing player last year, it generated such a magnitude of national backlash that Kansas State had to step in and lift the travel ban.
And under the new rules, a school can still block the transfer of a player to a conference rival. Even when they do, the player can often skirt the effort by appealing to the NCAA for a waiver. So while this new wrinkle may facilitate some transfers that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, it won’t be more than a few per year. Certainly nothing big enough to wreck the sport. More importantly, the portal didn’t create any of this – the rules change did. The portal is just a conduit. It would all still be happening with or without the portal. The portal just makes it easier. Portal. Because I’m getting paid every time I type “portal”…
The biggest reason that the portal (or the new rules) won’t trigger a tectonic landslide of sport-altering transfers is this: the 85 scholarship limit. Teams aren’t going to be able to go shopping for a dozen transfers every year just because they want to upgrade. Not without burning every recruiting bridge they have by “processing” players at a rate that would make Nick Saban blush. Simply won’t happen because it can’t happen. And there is this to consider: how often does a truly star player transfer? Not often. And when they do, it’s usually as a grad transfer. Why do players transfer? Myriad reasons, but usually because they’re not getting playing time. So their departure will usually not significantly hurt the team being left, and won’t significantly help the team they’re joining. At worst we have a case of too many players declaring early for the NFL, and a ton of them going undrafted. Only unlike when they declare for the draft, with the transfer portal, after they put their names in and talk to a bunch of teams, they can always just go back to their old school if nobody they want wants them. You can’t un-declare for the NFL draft, but you can un-portal yourself and go back (if they will have you).
We have already seen multiple cases of players entering the portal only to back out and stay put.
So ultimately, the portal changes nothing. It just makes things easier. And it balances that out by making the tampering rules more strict. And why shouldn’t it be easier? Coaches can leave whenever they want, and schools can cancel scholarships whenever they want…why should the players be shackled as much as they are? Sure that might grease the pole and get more kids to try it out, but ultimately how much of a difference are those marginal numbers of mostly marginal talents going to make? After all, we all heard that Jonathan Greenard was transferring to Florida weeks before he entered the portal. Permissions and discussions about the transfer had already been made without use of the portal. And ever it would be.
So don’t sweat it.
50 Shades of Gray
Sorry for the imagery, but Kirby Smart must be feeling like Dan Mullen just said, “Bring out the gimp,” and the zipper-mouthed head Dawg was humiliated even more than 4th-and-Dumber. He actually thought he was pulling a boss move by hiring away Florida’s defensive backs coach during the weekend they were hosting elite cornerback Kaiir Elam in Athens on an official visit.
But fact is that most Gator insiders have been hoping, begging for Charlton Warren to exit the program all year, for multiple reasons ranging from questionable coaching to dead wood recruiting to being a chemistry monkey wrench largely disliked in the program. What’s more, Georgia fell out of favor with Elam and family when they were caught being dishonest with them in recent weeks, and now they are introducing a position coach who just spent the previous weekend in Gainesville telling the Elams that he was staying at Florida.
But wait, there’s more.
Enter Torian Gray. Elite coach and developer of the defensive backfield, and excellent recruiter and producer of starting NFL defensive backs during his long stint at Virginia Tech. Already a widespread favorite of Gator players and recruiting targets, Gray is also a massive trump card for Kirby’s attempted power play of hiring Warren. You see, at Virginia Tech, Gray coached ad developed Kaiir Elam’s dad’s close friend and former NFL teammate. Yes there’s a Spaceballs Dark Helmet joke in there somewhere.
So Kirby tries to steal a recruit from us by hiring away a coach we couldn’t wait to get rid of, and Dan responds by hiring not only one of the best coaches and developers in the business, but also a close personal friend of that recruit’s father, and former position coach of one of his dad’s best friends. Kirby is playing checkers and Dan is playing 3-level Spock chess.
Give me the Gray M&M
For my part, I really wanted M&M – Marquand Manuel – as our next cornerbacks coach. The mixture of being a Gator, an elite coach and a native Miamian with instant south Florida recruiting clout was a strong allure. But in the end, Dan picked the right guy. Marquand would have been taking big step down, and by the fact that he wanted a bigger role and title, informed us of what I and we knew would be the case: that he would be a short-timer at Florida, and the college ranks in general. He would be back in the NFL in 3 years minimum. In Gray, we get even a better talent developer, still a strong recruiter, and very importantly a guy who has scratched his NFL itch and found it wanting, very likely to stay in college the rest of his career, and stay in Gainesville for a long tenure. That is, as long as he never gazes upon his own picture, which would end his tenure very quickly (you younger Gators just go Google Oscar Wilde).
In other words, he is exactly what we need right now.
In this way, I feel much like I did when Dan Mullen was hired. I was disappointed we missed on the sexy target Chip Kelley (yes, it’s really contradictory to imagine Chip and “sexy” in the same concept), but Dan was by far the right hire, maybe the perfect hire. M&M was the sexy hire, but Gray was perhaps the perfect hire. All disappointments about Kelley were instantly laid to rest when Dan emerged from the UF plane energetically Gator chomping and shouting how glad he was to be back home. Likewise, all disappointments about M&M were instantly erased when the Twittesphere erupted with celebration and excited cross-chat between Gator players, alums, and recruiting targets. I’m as always very glad that people like Dan Mullen and Scott Stricklin are making these decisions and not me.
I’ll close this week with a Dan Mullen quote that was referenced briefly this week in the forums, and is the signature of one of the community regulars, OklahomaGator. It was delivered when he was hired, and it went a li’l sumpin like dis:
“I am the boss. I make the rules. I do not mess around. I know what it takes to win here. This is not an experiment. Welcome to the new Gator Nation, gentlemen.”
I post it to revel in its greatness and how it signaled all the great moves he would make in his first year, and doubtless will continue to make. And what an impressive and motivating quote it is! In one fell swoop, it accomplished so many things. It laid down the law; established self-accountability; sent a tectonic shockwave message to players; recruits and rivals that the Beast of the East is back; and most importantly around here, it threw cold water in the face of the fans and said, “Wake up! The Gator standard is back. Act accordingly.”