Loyalty: A Dying Tradition

by Aaron J. Bass

Photo courtesy of USC athletics

The transfer portal, NIL, coaching carousel; to some, those topics bring opportunity. To others, it can bring fear and uncertainty.

One thing the majority of college athletics can agree on is that it has killed loyalty.

We have seen the adverse effects of the portal and NIL already. Big-market programs have seen an unprecedented influx in talent and money. Miami and USC have already taken advantage of their home markets and the potential their zip codes provide.

Never have we seen coaches abandon competing programs for lesser options like we have as of late. Lincoln Riley transitioned Oklahoma into a College Football Playoff mainstay and a quarterback’s heaven. Yet, he left all that for Los Angeles and the dead program of USC — all because in this new age of college football, he has noticed the potential many fail to see.

Coaching Carousel

Similarly to Riley, new Miami head coach Mario Cristobal too made a big move. This one had him leave the pine tree views of the Pacific Northwest at Oregon for sunny beaches of South Florida — all for the same reasons that Riley went to L.A. One could see the fact that Cristobal is a Miami native and Hurricanes’ alum, but do not let that fool you. It was a business decision.

Miami and USC are both widely considered to be dormant bluebloods: Programs with rich history and previous domination. One can see paradise for college football and other athletics, specifically in today’s new age. Miami and USC have another commonality between themselves — recruiting violations and sanctions.

The NCAA and the past punishments handed down are seen as the tumbling blocks for these once-elite programs. Miami and USC both were found to have jumped over the line of benefits and compensation given to armature athletes — a line that today has been blurred into obscurity.

Name, Image, and Likeness

On June 30, the NCAA adopted a new name, image, and likeness policy. The policy allows student-athletes to profit for themselves. It’s a policy that, in turn, has led to a complete power shift in college athletics.

Many openly spoke poorly about the new policy. Written off as skeptics, haters, and old-fashioned, those people quickly learned that college athletics was already changing before their eyes.

Now, we look back at the fears and questions those persons brought up and we can say, “they were right”.

As previously stated, we have seen coaches leave top-tier programs for schools with bigger markets. We have seen players reclassify to catch a “bag”. We have seen players get millions of dollars in deals only to underperform.

The idea of the NIL was to give players the ability to get a cut of the profits made because of their success and names. For most, that is its exact purpose. Spencer Rattle and Justyn Ross made their own merchandise lines.

Will Shipley coined “Ship Happens”. Athletes are being paid for playing video games with their biggest fans. However for some, it has become a form of legal cheating and recruiting violations.

Abuse of the System

Some athletes have been given pricey exotic cars, exclusive clothing items, and even homes. All for associating themselves with those brands and dealers. Even though it is entirely legal, it is something that many see as “suspect”.

What this does is creates a significant incentive for players and coaches to go to schools in big markets — not to develop into an NFL talent or compete for a national title. Instead, players choose those schools because the local dealerships, millionaires and celebrities will give them free stuff. All of these are things schools that REAL college markets cannot contribute or offer.

Norman, Okla., Eugene Ore., Athens Ga., and Clemson, S.C. — those four are small-market college towns with top-tier football programs. They have succeeded to recruit and retain talent off the idea of competing for championships. They could all see a significant dip for big-market lore.

We have seen coaches abandon their players and programs for the lore of a big market and the ease of recruiting those provide. We have also seen loyalty lost with coaches whom remain at their respective programs.

The Transfer Portal: The Good

At conception, the portal was created to give a student-athlete the ability to find a new or potentially a better athletic opportunity. It was to give the student-athlete a safety net in case of a life-altering change or decision.

Prior to the portal, players who wanted to transfer were required to sit a season and face the potential of losing a year of eligibility. The only exceptions to this rule were if the athlete was a graduate transfer, or if the transfer was made due to an exigent circumstance.

That exemption rule proved to be flawed as we saw several examples of athletes failing to receive an exemption — even if they had in the eyes of many met the exigent circumstance clause. For an example of this flawed practice, look no further than Illinois tight end Luke Ford.

Ford had originally attended Georgia. After a season however, he decided to transfer to Illinois. In an effort to be closer to home and specifically, closer to his grandparents, Ford made the move with the hope that his family would be able to see him play college football.

Unfortunately, his exemption waiver was denied. His grandfather passed away before Ford could play for the Fighting Illini.

This was just one of the many reasons the NCAA decided to create the portal: To give players like Ford the opportunity to have their dreams and desires come true. However, as seen with the NIL, there is always room for the system or for change to be abused.

One of the most desirable things about college athletics for fans and schools is recruiting. That’s the hunt and challenge to see if the nation’s top talent is willing commit themselves to spending the next three or four years at your favorite school. It’s a commitment that, of late, no longer holds its word.

The Transfer Portal: The Bad

The need for players to transfer schools for exigent circumstances is necessary. What is not necessary is for a player to transfer in hopes of finding a bigger market for NIL gains or going to another school in a ‘ring hunt’. However, the latter is a little different.

For over 95% of all college athletes, college is the highest level of competition they will ever compete in. The drive to want to win at that level is admirable to say the least.

For some however, a commitment is a commitment. It is the players’ word and bond to their coaches, schools, and fans. Of late however, we have seen that bond broken time and time again.

It is understandable for fans and some coaches to be upset when a promising player decides to leave the program he had committed to. However, these decisions also show you just how quickly the fans can break that bond as well.

When an athlete commits to a program, they instantly become a part of the program, part of the student base, and part of the family. However, those commitments are made with the pre-disposed assumption that they will one day play for that program — in front of their fellow students and for the family that welcomed them in with open arms. No athlete wants to ride the bench when his or her team plays.

In an attempt to find their greener pasture and better opportunity, players have been ridiculed and verbally attacked for their decision to leave. Fans take to message boards and Twitter to show their displeasure and to attack their “family”.

The Transfer Portal: The Ugly

The greatest bond anyone can have and forge is a familial bond: The bond between a parent and their child, the bond shared between siblings, and the bond between an athlete and their coach.

Along with an athlete committing to a program is the coach committing to that player. This commitment is the one less spoken about. It however, is the one of greater proportion.

In the eyes of an athlete, the coach is a father/mother figure. They are tasked with teaching players how to act, how to carry themselves in the face of defeat and how to work in a team setting. The bond between a coach and a player is as strong as anything in the world. When it’s broken, it can be devastating.

When a coach tells a player to be patient and wait for his or her opportunity, it can come as a blindside when that very same coach proceeds to bring in another player to play over the one they had recruited from high school. On the outside looking in, many can say and possibly see that the original player may not be ready or is too young to get the role.

That is understandable. But many times, we see a situation where a younger player is brought in and the older player is discarded like last week’s newspaper.

The bond and commitment between a coach and player is supposed to be unbreakable. But with the growth and reliance on the portal, we have seen that bond and commitment get thrown away in the search of a few extra wins.

Loyalty

The greatest traditions in college athletics has always been “loyalty”. That’s the loyalty of the fans, players and coaches; all of that however, has entered hospice.

Loyalty used to be a dime a dozen. Of late, it has just become a word that people like to throw around to give the façade of caring.

It used to have real meaning. Now, it’s little more than a sales pitch.

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