2019-05-05 sp-emigcolumn Riley

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley talks to a reporter after the Sooners’ spring game at The Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Friday, April 12. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

Last January, we examined how coaches were handling college football’s transfer hysteria (hint: not well). We encouraged them to be more sensible as the NCAA passed legislation favoring players’ rights. We suggested they manage the changes moving forward, as opposed to complaining about them.

Now that spring football has passed, the NCAA hasn’t offered much in the way of counter-legislation to swing the pendulum back toward coaches, and there are more than 400 players in the NCAA transfer portal still undecided about their future, let’s check back in.

Select Big 12 and American Athletic Conference coaches, including Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery, offered their latest opinions on the transfer issue during the leagues’ recent spring teleconferences.

Let’s see if we’re moving forward, backward or sideways here.

Riley: “The one part I still have a hard time with it is you don’t have to come tell your coach. Any job in the world, if you’re going to leave or go take another job, it’s the right thing to go tell the people that you work for, people that are heads of the department you work for… It’s just common respect or courtesy that you have those conversations. It’s part of the growing process.

“We’re here to educate and help grow young men, yet we don’t put them in position where they’ve got to make grown man choices and have grown man talks.”

In January I suggested that coaches have conversations with transferring players instead of throwing their arms up and dismissing those players as seeking easy ways out. I suggested coaches learn something about the transfer culture, even if they don’t like it.

I suggest the same for players if Riley is right, that some of them are bolting programs without so much as an explanation. Players owe coaches that much, even if the NCAA no longer requires it of them.

Before last summer’s legislation, players needed their coach’s/university’s permission to transfer. Now players must simply inform that coach they are leaving before entering their name in the transfer portal.

After they inform, they should also explain.

Les Miles, Kansas: “The ease of transfer, I think it’s wonderful for the player, I don’t know that it’s great for the coaches.”

Miles’ statement was the most honest thing I heard on the topic. He’s right. It isn’t great for the coaches. It isn’t easy for them, since they had so much of the power before last June.

But these guys are paid ridiculous money and have ample support staff. They can find ways to make it work.

Gundy: “I think that there are a few things that are positive, but I think the majority of it is dangerous unless the NCAA changes the opportunity for coaches to manage roster numbers based on the 85 scholarships that we have. As it is right now we can’t handle the roster changes. We can’t predict them and we can’t make up for them based on the way the rules are.

“They (NCAA) have failed to address ways for us to manage our roster based on the current portal situation.”

Coaches have dealt with the 85-scholarship maximum since 1992. Players were transferring then, so this is hardly a new phenomenon.

Yes, it is a new era in terms of easier transfer access. But keep in mind coaches who lose players to the portal can gain others back. Gundy lost transferring defensive lineman Darrion Daniels to Nebraska, then picked up transferring defensive lineman Israel Antwine from Colorado. He managed.

He can manage a little easier now that he has a second national signing day at his disposal.

He can continue to manage, even if the NCAA doesn’t adjust scholarship limitations.

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati: “The NCAA does not have a very good grasp on how to do this thing right now. When they make the two most high-profile kids in the country immediately eligible (a reference to quarterbacks Tate Martell, who transferred from Ohio State to Miami, and Justin Fields, who transferred from Georgia to Ohio State) for whatever reason, and then can tell some other kid that he’s not, they’re in some ways playing, I don’t want to say God, but they’re in some ways dictating what they believe is the best thing without true hardline parameters.

“It’s really gray right now for us and for college football.”

The NCAA didn’t just make it easier for players to transfer last year, it made it easier for them to gain immediate eligibility.

Now, according to NCAA policy, players must prove the presence of “mitigating circumstances” at their former university to gain eligibility. Before, players had to prove the presence of “egregious behavior.”

That change of language gives transfers much wider leeway to make their case, which attorneys are now doing. According to reports on NCAA data, 51 of the first 64 eligibility waiver appeals had been granted by the NCAA.

I’m in the coaches’ corner here. I’m fine with eligibility waivers, but the NCAA should be transparent about decisions so players and coaches understand what constitutes “mitigating circumstances.”

Montgomery: “I think we ought to put a rule in there to say, ‘OK, if you want to transfer, that’s great. But if you do transfer, everybody’s going to sit a year. If you graduate from the university, you get your year back at the back end of that deal.’”

Montgomery is one of several coaches who back this compromise first suggested by Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and now promoted by the American Football Coaches Association.

I don’t agree with it, since there are “mitigating circumstances” (coach gets fired, player encounters personal crisis) that justify immediate eligibility waivers.

I do like coaches being sensible, though. They don’t have to panic in the wake of player-friendlier transfer legislation, they just have to think.

Good on Montgomery and Fitzgerald for thinking this through.

Guerin Emig



Twitter: @GuerinEmig



Sports Columnist

Proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the Oklahoma Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.