By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz lost some power and influence on Oct. 15, 2018.
So did Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney and every other college head football coach because that day marked the start of the college football transfer portal.
Student-athletes can now enter their names into a transfer portal, which allows schools to initiate contact with them. Entering a name in the transfer portal doesn’t necessarily mean a player intends to transfer, but the portal's presence gives student-athletes options they didn't have before.
Student-athletes can pursue and talk to other schools without restriction, all the while remaining enrolled at their present school.
Iowa defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon had reportedly entered the transfer portal in January, but Ferentz said Wednesday that he hopes Nixon will remain at Iowa.
“We’re still hoping he’ll be on our football team,” Ferentz said. “He’s letting that situation play out.”
Ferentz’s biggest concern with the transfer portal is that it will create an environment in which student-athletes are being influenced by third parties to transfer at the first sign of adversity or dissatisfaction.
Ferentz referred to two cases in which players were granted immediate eligibility at two different Big Ten schools after having transferred from another school.
“The trend kind of got started a while ago,” Ferentz said. “We had a player leave a non-power five conference and came to one of our Big Ten member institutions. And it was a player that ended up getting immediate eligibility. And the rationale was that they changed the system at his previous school, the offensive system. That really seems like an ambiguous criteria to me. Where is that line of demarcation? So we opened up a Pandora’s Box right there.
“And then most recently a pretty notable player transferred to our conference this year and got immediate eligibility as an underclassmen. I’m not sure of the rationale. It really doesn’t matter. But my sense of this is right now if you get the right lawyer you might have a pretty good chance of becoming immediately eligible. And I think we’re getting into some immediate gray area in terms of what would cause a guy to have to sit or to be immediately eligible. It sounds like some opportunistic lawyers might have an opportunity to pump up their business.”
It also seems that Ferentz is concerned about losing the leverage that college head coaches have always had over student-athletes.
There are definitely two sides to this story, and Ferentz has a right to be concerned about the influence of third parties, and about the rise in transfers because the flood gates have been opened.
But on the flipside, a double standard has existed in football and men’s basketball in which head coaches have more leverage, freedom and control than a student-athlete.
A head coach can resign from one school to take a better job at another school without any restrictions besides maybe a buyout that the new employer usually pays anyway.
Take the case of Manny Diaz for example.
He resigned as the head football coach for Temple after just 17 days on the job in late December to become the head coach for Miami (Fla.), where he had been the defensive coordinator.
“I hate the way this unfolded with respect to Temple,” Diaz said in a statement. “I was given a tremendous opportunity to lead the Temple program and I was actively engaged in doing just that when I woke up this morning. I never saw this coming, no one did. I do hope that the Temple players, administration and fans appreciate the uniqueness of this situation and the overwhelming pull to stay home.”
The unique situation to which Diaz was referring was Mark Richt’s decision to retire as the Miami head coach after just two seasons.
Diaz wouldn’t have left Miami if he had known that Richt was on the verge of retiring, because no disrespect to Temple, but the Miami job is at a different level in terms of money, prestige and climate.
“Miami is home,” Diaz said. “The University of Miami is home. The U has truly been ‘the job’ for me since I first got into coaching. Having worked here over the past three years, I came to understand what it means to be part of ‘The U’ and came to appreciate the passion and commitment to excellence of all who proudly call themselves Canes.”
Diaz’s situation helps to show just how easy head coaches have it when it comes to pursuing other opportunities. They can come and go as they please with little to no repercussions, while student-athletes usually have to sit out one year under NCAA transfer rules.
The transfer portal was established with good intentions in that it was designed to give student-athletes more flexibility and freedom to make choices.
But like anything, it can lead to abuse, and that’s what has Ferentz concerned. And rightfully so.
Student-athletes in football and men’s basketball are transferring at an alarming rate these days, and the transfer portal will only fuel that trend.
My personal take on this subject is that something had to be done to narrow the gap between head coaches and student-athletes.
The NCAA refuses to pay student-athletes, but they are willing to make it easier to transfer to another school.
Ferentz has said before that he would prefer that a student-athlete have five years of eligibility instead of just four, and I agree with that. I also feel that a student-athlete should be given one chance to transfer without any restrictions.
Because picking the right college isn’t easy, and there are times when recruits make the wrong choice.
So why not give them one second chance to fix things?
The transfer portal is causing the power to shift from head coaches to student-athletes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless you’re a head coach.
It’s a noble cause, but not without flaws.
Student-athletes should have more freedom and flexibility. But you also don’t want them transferring at the first sign of trouble because there is something to be said for staying the course and for being loyal.
The 63-year old Ferentz just finished his 20th season as the Iowa head coach and is the longest-tenured head coach in college football.
So if any head coach has earned the right to question the transfer portal, it's Ferentz.
He sees the landscape changing in a way that could ultimately hurt the game he loves so dearly.