Like it or not, we're on the brink of the College Football Free Agency era
This offseason, college football fans have been treated to a new channel of excitement: the Transfer Portal. It has added a roller coaster free agency-like aspect to the offseason, where fans can be elated by incoming impact players (Justin Fields) or devastated when fan favourites decide to further their careers elsewhere (Jalen Hurts). If you’ve spent any time listening to college football podcasts, reading related arcticles, or browsing r/cfb over the last few months, it’s obvious that fans are staying engaged long after National Signing Day, and that’s a great thing for the sport. It’s clear to me that we are now in an era of college football free agency.
High profile transfers are nothing new to CFB, every year high profile recruits select high prestige schools, and every year former high profile recruits transfer from these high prestige schools. For further proof, if you take a look at Elite 11 rosters over the past 5 years, you can see how many quarterbacks signed letters of intent at schools they’re no longer attending. It’s not always that the player picks the “wrong” school per se, situations change overnight in college football with coaches/coordinators taking different jobs or getting fired, and the players are the ones left behind. The Portal offers players to chance to reopen their recruitment and test the waters on schools that might be interested in adding them to their rosters. From that standpoint, the portal is extremely beneficial to CFB and it’s players, but not all aspects of this era are positive.
When Justin Fields was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility at Ohio State, with the help of his attorney Tom Mars (the same attorney who helped Shea Patterson get the same thing), it signalled to me the beginning of the end of having to sit out a year after transferring. Fields’ situation is different given the incident involving a former Georgia baseball player, however Mars stated that "Irrefutable documentation that has nothing to do with racism was presented to the NCAA in support of OSU’s request that Justin Fields be given a waiver,", and with his sister attending Georgia on a softball scholarship, his family clearly doesn’t have issues with the institution.
This presents the question, what case did Justin Fields have to be presented with immediate eligibility? The answer is something we may never know, but the statement itself sets a bad precedent for players like Tate Martell to be able to play right away. After all, Tathan’s coach at Ohio State recently retired, so why shouldn’t he be able to play right away at Miami? We’re still awaiting the ruling on his eligibility, but if he is granted it is another step in the direction of college football free agency, which is a scary thing for CFB.
Picture a standout RS Freshman for a school like Fresno State or Western Kentucky looking to benefit from a competitive Power 5 schedule and TV exposure having the ability to transfer to Alabama or Clemson and play right away. The negative impact that his departure would have on those schools is far greater than the benefit that one of these powerhouses would gain. It’s within the player’s right to transfer, but he should lose a year of eligibility to do so.
The Portal (praise portal) is great for players and fans alike, but giving players the ability to transfer without penalty has major implications on the competitive landscape of college football, and is something that needs to be nipped in the bud. While transfers can improve a player’s situation and their career, I believe it is crucial for the NCAA to continue to require a compelling reason for players to be granted immediate eligibility in order to prevent college football free agency.