Berry: NCAA must go further in ‘free agency’ options
Mia Berry | Monday, September 30, 2019
When it comes to the name-calling game, the NCAA is losing in a landslide fashion. While the NCAA normally lets the criticism flow off like rain dripping off a raincoat, the cries became so loud the NCAA was forced to listen. The NCAA passed rules to look out for student-athletes, in the form of a transfer portal and a redshirt rule for college football. A year later, the NCAA is realizing it opened up Pandora’s box.
Enacted before the 2018 season, the redshirt rule allows athletes to participate in up to four games during a season and still maintain a year of eligibility. Ideally, the rule was put in place to help freshmen save a year and give coaches some flexibility regarding injuries. However, the NCAA never specified the redshirt rule is only for freshmen, and upperclassmen are also reaping the benefits.
Soon after the NCAA released a transfer portal, where student-athletes are allowed to announce their intent to transfer from their current school, which allows other schools to initiate contact with them.
The redshirt rule, combined with the transfer portal, has set the stage for some college football “free agency.”
Under the new rules, the quarterback battles last season at Clemson and Alabama saw Kelly Bryant and Jalen Hurts transfer to Missouri and Oklahoma, respectively. Bryant was a beneficiary of the redshirt rule, and Hurts benefitted from the transfer portal.
Four games into this season, another quarterback is looking to throw his hat into the redshirt and potential transfer market, Houston’s D’Eriq King. By sitting out this season, King will have two seasons of eligibility remaining with either the Cougars or his transfer destination. Howard University quarterback Caylin Newton — the younger brother of Carolina Panthers signal caller Cam Newton — is following suit and sat out in Howard’s close loss against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday.
Unlike Hurts or Bryant, King and Newton didn’t outright lose their starting jobs, but instead, they are two good quarterbacks looking to save a year of eligibility and possibly transfer to Power Five schools. Free agency in college football isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Oklahoma is currently running a monopoly on elite transfer quarterbacks, with Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, and now Heisman hopeful Jalen Hurts, all having transferred to play for the Sooners. Rumors have surfaced that King may also be on the Sooners’ radar for next season. Ohio State’s Justin Fields and LSU’s Joe Burrow have had success with their new teams. While great for some, it also doesn’t offer any guarantees (cough, Tate Martell to Miami or Shea Patterson to Michigan), but it gives players options they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
While some free agency exists, it isn’t complete. New transfer and eligibility rules give flexibility, but the system is limited and flawed in several ways.
Luke Ford and Brock Hoffman, who transferred to be close to ailing family members, were denied immediate eligibility. Furthermore, players who enter their names into the transfer portal could potentially lose their scholarships at the end of the semester, as a program is under no obligation to keep a player on the roster who explores transfer options.
The NCAA tried and partially failed in creating rules for student athletes. But paving the way to create some sense of free agency for student-athletes is a good start. The next step is offering players full agency.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.