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Coin Flip Commitments

The changing dynamics of student-athletes' search for greener pastures

The world of college football is changing each and every day it seems. What once started off as a transfer here and there, has now become the ever changing of the minds with ”verbal commitments”. The portal now serves as an unofficial free agency for transfers and a seemingly growing number of players opting out of bowl games. Not to mention, the coaching carousel for the bigger, better deal, is reaching new heights, as we saw in late 2021. Are we near the peak of this mountain or have we only started our climb up?

Before we move on in this whirpool of fact or fiction regarding commitment level of both coach and player, I do want to commend and thank all of those players that stay true to their verbal commitments, signing day commitments, and all years of elgibility to their teams. In a very small amount of time, it appears that staying true, loyal, dependable, or whatever adjective you want to use, is becoming lost in college football these days. That goes for both the coaches and the players.

To start things off with the first coin flip of college programs, let’s begin with the circus acts that are verbal commitments at the high school level. Social media has driven our self-gratification society to new heights in both positive and negative ways. The hype video, signing day presser, and so on, have become more and more elaborate each season. The production value is Hollywood-esque and I do believe we are no where near seeing the most extravagent.

Even with this at hand, we see verbal commitments flip, drop, put on hold and all the things in between for reasons known and unknown. Why not just have a final 5 and commit when you have truly made a decsion? Or simply be a young man of your word and stay with your verbal commitment! Impressionable is an understatement and the feeding grounds for recruiting visits. I am not naive to that. Yet when you flip your commitment, you are merely putting in a quarter to ride the carousel that for some, may never stop.

Once the commitment is there, you have to sign the document that makes it official. Sign the line and fax that joker in! So for a moment, we collectively, are excited, hyped, back on the band wagon and stating our record guesses for the following season. You even see NIL deals being thrown around signees without having to prove anything. Just commit and ”the bag” is yours! Guess SMU and Miami were on to something back in the day.

Yet how true is the signature these days with NIL and the like mentioned during recruiting? We aren’t even in the first full year of NIL and you have already seen a high profile player bolt for a “better option” or whatever he percieves is the reason to leave his original commitment, in Quinn Ewers. Ohio State is a dream school for thousands and he even earned hundreds of thousands in his 6-7 months there. His time as a Buckeye was short lived, making his move to Texas for a number of reasons that I am sure made sense to him and his family. This particular coin flip didn’t even last a season!

I am confident Quinn is not the only player with this type of personal scenario but he made a ton of headlines for it. Does he have to pay the money back from Ohio State specifc NIL deals? Are Texas fans truly bought in with his commitment level as he can surely leave after this year, sit one year out, and play 2 more years somewhere else? With the immediate elgibility via first transfer now in place, will NIL deals start to have specific language that the earnings must come from the college or university it was originally drafted and signed under? As a fan of the game, I hope so as it may help slow down this carousel of transfers every year moving forward.

First year players, red shirts, grey shirts, etc. seem to fill the portal after every season in a vastly growing number. Some loaded with stars and others not. The question is why are you leaving after one season or calendar year? You knew who was on the roster when you were recruited, the expectations to increase your knowledge and speed of the game and the picture that was painted for you when you committed. Are you looking for greener grass? If so, what defines greener for you? What was it in that short window of time that drove your decision making to want to leave the place, that for a large amount of players, was their only D1 offer out of HS or JUCO? This type of departure over the past decade or so has become common place, but still hurts none the less.

The flip that hits close to home is the rapidly growing ”free agency” of small school ballers to P5 or ”bigger programs.” 2021 especially has brought on high profile players of small schools and three, four and five star athletes leaving P5 programs in droves. For the small school players, are you looking for that P5 shot? If you get it, will it truly better the value you carry as the star of your current program for your desired end result? Some of the schools after you are seeing their 3/4/5 star kids bolt for their specific reasons. What makes you better than them since they got the shot out of high school, which you did not, and it did not work out for them there?

Simply look at the portal players coming from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Michigan and so on. Why not stay home and be an all-time great, a record breaker/holder for the team that said you were good enough when others did not? With all of this said, I am curious to know how many players find scholarships to start at their new schools or have to pay their own way. And if they do find a scholarship, did they actually better their situation or find themselves worse off? Higher profile transfers get the headlines so we tend to know how those workout more than others. Yet the curiosity is still there.

Another almost common place flip of commitment now is the player opt outs of bowl games. For a little over a decade, we have seen major college football stars opt out to avoid injury and begin their prep for the NFL draft. The decision to not play a final college game to me seems ridiculous. It’s a bowl game that comes with a once in a life time experience, swag, high profile coverage, and the coveted bowl ring! If you showed out in the bowl game to a vast audience, wouldn’t that do more than your workout videos that get posted on Twitter or IG? Don’t you want that one last battle with your brothers who stood behind you during your college career? To prevent this, do we incentivize them somehow outside of what is currently offered from the bowl sponsors? Or, should coaches withold bowl rings and ability to travel with the team for those that do not play via opt out. The experience is meant for the players playing and coaches coaching.

With all the data that is being collected and studied on this matter, I often ponder what each entry truly believes when they see that they are one of hundreds in the portal, the current percentages of those finding a new home, is the new home FBS or FCS OR JUCO? There are only so many scholarships to go around and you truly have to stand out with the hundreds of others in the portal, hundreds if not thousands JUCO graduates looking for an opporunity and also high school athletes who are being recruited as well. Who is the top priority if one scholarship is left for a transfer with a limited number of years left or a high school player with all elgibility left? The confidence level to enter the portal has got to be high to roll the dice and hoping not to crap out.

Now players are not the only persons we need to worry about it when it comes to commitment. Coaches are now seemingly flipping as fast as Wendy’s flips a burger on the grill. Firings or mutual partings of the way are part of the business that is college football so those coaches are excused from this paragraph. And the coordinators getting their first shot are as well. Yet the mayhem we saw in 2021 is to be studied under a microscope for years to come. Smaller school success stories moving on up has a low level of success seemingly and am curious as to how these coaches will do going from small school to the bigger programs. Very rarely do we see Urban Meyer type success from his days at Bowling Green to Utah to Florida to Ohio Stater or Greg Schiano and what he did at Rutgers. Yet Washington and Florida hired new head coaches that found success in the G5 in hopes of making their programs relevant again in their respective conferences. Let’s just hope they break the trend and are successful.

Now, Brian Kelly leaving Notre Dame for LSU and Lincoln Riley leaving Oklahoma to USC are two coaches who had beyond successful programs in hand and simply left for the shiny new toy. Decommitments came rapidly and these coaches came under fire for a number of reasons on ”why leave for this?” The talking heads of sports media attacked these moves head on with praise and criticsim simultaneously. And the thumbprint warriors appeared to follow suit to get multiple conversations going as to what is truly going on in college football. You can even throw Sonny Dykes in to this conversation as he fled across the DFW metroplex in leaving SMU for TCU. He had a 30-17 record in his five seasons at SMU and seemed to be in conversations for sleeper teams, solid recruiting classes and more each season. I wonder if he changed physical addresses or just stayed put and got a toll tag?

To solve this trend and get back to a “commitment is a commitment” way of recruiting may simply never happen. These young men have access to so much more hype and influence than recruits did even ten years ago, that you got to believe their mind changes daily on where the right fit is. Coaches are impressionable as well as we saw these past two months or so with ”bigger opportunities” or just straight up more money!

This ever growing topic of converation will continue even when the bowl games are done and signing classes are official for 2022. Spring ball will come and in essence start this process all over again as feelings will go in different directions, starting positions handed out or whatever to convince a student athlete it is time for a change. I truly hope though, that in the end, the student athletes are welcomed in their new homes and thrive for the reasons in which they sought the change of scenary. Football eventually ends for a huge amount of those who do not make the NFL, adulthood begins and you simply can’t just flip flop your way through life and hope to maintain a positive way of providing for your needs. Please consider all scenarios to set you up best for life after football.

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