Reese Strickland, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Reese Strickland, CC-BY-SA-2.0

The loss of loyalty in college football

January 19, 2022

In the NFL, professional players are drafted to a team right out of college. They may stay with this team their whole career, be traded to another team, or opt to join another team when their contract expires. Pro sports are a whirlwind of teams moving players around, new players being drafted, older players retiring, and coaches being fired and hired. The rules of the pro leagues and salary variations encourage and account for this constant movement of rosters, as teams and players strive to put themselves in the best position to win and increase their salaries and brands. While transfers have always existed in pro sports, college sports have also evolved to feature increasingly frequent personnel changes.  

Historically, college football has been very steady with its rosters. However, two trends have become increasingly prevalent in the NCAA, the coaching carousel and the transfer portal. 

 Just this year, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley left his program to take a position as the Southern California head coach. Two weeks later, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelley left the program he has coached since 2012 and headed south to sign a ten year, ninety-five-million-dollar contract with Louisiana State University. The constant movement of college coaches is often referred to as the “coaching carousel” and has emerged especially in the last 10 years, with coaches such as Lane Kiffin being notorious for changing teams frequently. 

The transfer portal is like a coaching carousel, but regarding athletes. This season, Oklahoma preseason Heisman candidate announced his decision to leave the school. Georgia Tech star Jahmyr Gibbs recently posted on his Twitter account about taking his talents elsewhere. Over the last several seasons, elite players such as Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts, and Heisman winner Baker Mayfield have all transferred. The 2021 season marked a new record for the transfer portal: fifteen percent of all college football players were in the portal. This increasing sense of leaving programs to seek opportunities elsewhere is newfound within the last decade, transferring was nearly unheard of just a mere fifteen years ago. 

So, what does this mean for college football? With new NIL deals allowing athletes to obtain sponsorship and earn money off their name and likeness, athletes are increasingly encouraged to play in programs that will gain them exposure, and therefore money. College football powerhouses such as Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and other historic programs attract large amounts of recruits due to their sustained winning and large amounts of exposure. These programs also experience many transfers in and out, due to players not receiving playing time because of the talent deficit, and players coming in from other programs seeking more exposure. 

The constant movement in college football doesn’t really present a problem, it just represents change. However, the college football world does need to change with the times. As players and coaches move constantly, many schools are struggling to adapt to the changes. Powerhouse programs are separating from the pack, and lack of loyalty is making it harder for struggling programs to improve, as athletes lose the motivation to “stick around” and try to get better. Instead, athletes just leave bad programs and go to better ones that meet their needs better. 

A variety of solutions can be offered to solve these issues, with one of the proposed ones being a restriction on the athlete’s ability to transfer. Athletes should have to stay at the school they commit to for at least two seasons, and coaches should have to forfeit money if they leave outside their contracts. College football is special because of its tradition, and the tradition of leaving schools needs to end before it can start.  

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