MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If you would cut me enough slack to do some role playing, I would like to slip into my devil’s advocate’s costume and take an unpopular stance on the NCAA’s transfer portal, which is in need of a far better public relations fan than it has received to date.
The portal, which has been a vehicle which has carried so many disgruntled athletes away from the colleges to which they were pledged, has been portrayed as a villain driven by greed that ignites disloyalty from within.
True, this is a “me-first” era, perhaps as we’ve never seen before in college athletics, but it cannot be overlooked by those who complain about what has happened to the games collegians play that those who were in charge of the games brought this on themselves.
This was no less a reaction to being last in the buffet that was handing out the benefits of college sports than was the revolution that changed the face of professional sports almost a half century ago now, one that has led to such a drastic role reversal that the riches being bestowed upon the players today could well lead to a strike of ownership.
The transfer portal has offered a penalty-free trip out of unhappy situations for players, something that feels like fingernails scratching across a blackboard because we have for years been fed the line that it was the players who were benefitting via scholarships and an education, while coaches and administrators were growing richer and richer, as were television companies, executives and commentators.
Let us first understand the situation as it really has been. We have asked kids at the age of 18 or so to make maybe the most important decisions of their lives, decisions being guided by slick talking coaches, men who were part used-car salesmen and part football geniuses.
Often the decisions these kids were making were being based up all the wrong things, which is understandable when you are 18 or 19 and trying to decide what path you want to take to success at the age of 30 or 40 and beyond.
How many college students, those who are there simply to get an education, change their minds and their majors along the way? How many regular students transfer? How many of you have seen the road you have opted to take change, whether it being changing profession or changing your job within the profession?
I know I have worked for as many newspapers than you have fingers and, along the way, traveled a route that led to Wilmington, Delaware; Atlanta; Dayton, Ohio; Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, back to Pittsburgh, New York and finally Morgantown.
There came a time along the way where I actually made a right decision here and there, but by then I was mature enough to base decisions on the realities of the world, without being influenced by pretty cheerleaders and fancy facilities.
In campus situations, fraternities have their rush weeks and football and basketball have their recruiting seasons where the bring in recruits who are all-county, all-state, all-American. They believe they either own the world right now or will within the next four years, but what they don’t fully grasp is that each of them has the same dreams.
Not all of them will be realized.
So much goes on at college. You have your major to worry about, although all too often your sport really is your major, and if you can’t win a starting job at the college you have chosen, you look around to find one where you can play.
See, you are 20 only once and innately every college football player knows that. He wants to play football or he or she wants to play basketball or soccer, not just be part of team and go through the grind of preparing each week to sit.
I think transferring for playing time is the No. 1 reason for transferring, although often even those who don’t play sports initially pick the wrong school for them to attend originally. Football and basketball players do the same.
Maybe you miss home, miss the family. Maybe it’s too big a college, too small. Maybe the weather, the geography or the location don’t fit.
They pick up a newspaper – OK, they go to a website – and see professional athletes parading around with no loyalty. What’s sauce for the goose — or the Eagle, Falcon or Lion — is sauce for the gander and they, too, decide it’s time to test free agency.
Sometimes it doesn’t work. Life guarantees nothing.
But sometimes it does. Remember running back Curtis Keaton at West Virginia, a solid running back who came to WVU with big-time dreams but ran into a kid named Amos Zereoue who was ahead of him? Zereoue turned out to be one of the all-time greats at the school while Keaton played two years as a backup.
Finally, he left for James Madison, where he played two years and became a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, gaining 1,064 yards his first season while breaking the school single-game carries record with 38 against Delaware and then rushed for 1,719 yards his senior year, scoring a school-record 126 points, including another school record with 30 points on five TDs in one game.
What’s more, he was a fourth-round pick of the Bengals in the draft and had a three-year NFL career, most of it as one of the league’s better kickoff returners.
WVU has brought players in who have benefitted, the likes of safety Alonzo Addae, who came in from New Hampshire last year and now is listed among the nation’s top safeties, or quarterback Clint Trickett, who gave Dana Holgorsen the quarterback he needed after leaving Florida State. That list is extensive.
It’s true, the situation is far more chaotic than it once was and programs do get hurt by players leaving, the Mountaineers secondary taking big hits this year as starters Dreshun Miller, a cornerback, and Tykee Smith, a potential All-American safety, transferred out.
So, it goes both ways … Oscar Tshiebwe leaves, Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil come in.
That’s the reality of life in college athletics today and it doesn’t do a bit of good to complain about it. Just wish those who leave good luck in the future and welcome in those who want to play for the school you root for.