First and 10: An NCAA rule proposal that will forever change college football
I don’t want to get on a soapbox but …
Breathe deep, everyone, and comprehend this: The NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, is on the verge of doing something positive for student-athletes.
Something that will change the very landscape of college football as we know it.
According to 247Sports, the NCAA is considering a vote to allow Division I players to transfer to another school and be eligible immediately – instead of the current rule that forces players to sit out a season before resuming eligibility.
“This has been a sore spot, and frankly, a public relations black eye, for us,” one Power 5 athletic director told me earlier this week. “We’ve got a chance to fix it moving forward.”
And an opportunity to create more competitive balance within the sports, and more specifically, football. In other words, the days of 4- and 5-star recruits sitting and waiting multiple years to play at Alabama might soon be over.
The days of Alabama and LSU and Ohio State and USC – and any of the sport’s heavyweights – loading up on elite recruits and developing them over two or three years, might soon be over.
If players can move freely between teams, college football will have a form of free agency every single offseason. Does Alabama tailback Damien Harris, who led Alabama in rushing in 2016 but was clearly the Tide’s No. 2 tailback after Bo Scarbrough’s late season run, stay at Alabama this offseason knowing Scarbrough and super recruit Najee Harris are on the depth chart?
Does defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2014, wait three years to start if he’s allowed to transfer and play immediately elsewhere?
Does Derrius Guice stay at LSU knowing he has Leonard Fournette in front of him for two years? Guice told me last year the hardest part of playing at LSU was sitting behind Fournette and knowing his production would be the same level or higher than Fournette.
Last year, when Fournette was injured, Guice showed just that, ripping off a huge second half of the season and leading the SEC in rushing.
“A shift in the paradigm? It will be an earthquake,” one SEC coach told me this week.
Because it doesn’t just affect players leaving for another school. The new rule would also have a significant impact on recruiting, changing the entire already shaky and shady process.
Case in point: The delicate process of not only recruiting and signing players, but continuing to recruit them once they’ve signed and are competing for starting spots – while simultaneously recruiting behind them in the next class, just in case they decide to leave.
If you think quarterbacks who don’t play transferring now is a problem, wait and see what happens when the lone detriment of sitting out a penalty season is eliminated.
“Guys want to play, want to get to the NFL,” Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight told me last spring. “If you’re not playing, the NFL isn’t watching. It’s that simple.”
The NCAA is sitting in an increasingly untenable position when it comes to player rights, and those multi-billion dollar television contracts have moved the narrative toward taking better care of players. A rule change would eliminate the ultimate hypocrisy of the amateur model: a coach can leave for another job without penalty; a player cannot.
There is, however, a hitch to the potential rule. There will be a minimum GPA requirement for players to obtain immediate eligibility, an idea based on further strengthening a student athlete’s academic experience.
If the minimum is 2.0 (the current minimum for freshman eligibility), that won’t make a dent in the academic experience. Players currently must have a 2.0 GPA to stay eligible to play.
If the minimum GPA is higher – say, 3.0 – it’s a game-changer.
“A lot of these guys just don’t like school, period,” a Power 5 athletic director told me. “Anything we can do to show them the value of school – even if it’s dangling the carrot of transferring whenever you want – maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t necessarily like the idea, but there’s good and bad to everything.”
2. A kick in the can
OK, can we all agree that Tennessee’s turnover trash can – or whatever the hell they call it – might be the dumbest thing in the history of dumb?
Let’s backtrack, shall we?
Somewhere, in some team meeting before the season, someone decided — goodness, I sure hope it wasn’t coach Butch Jones – that carrying around a large trash can on the sidelines would be a motivating factor for the Vols’ defense.
The idea: get a turnover, put the ball in the trash can.
I still can’t figure out what it all means, but I do know this: For a coach who – despite back-to-back nine-win seasons – might need to win eight games to save his job, it’s the worst possible idea. Already there are memes circulating on social media of Jones in the trash can.
Only good the about the UT trash can is we can do this (and I'm a Vols fan) pic.twitter.com/TTfI4ET7JJ
— RoyalBlueTried&True (@bludevil26) September 6, 2017
How many times do you think that will be posted – over and over – with every Tennessee loss? With the narrative holding so much weight in this social media age, why would any coach approve of anything so nonsensical as a trash can as a prop?
Trash can = garbage.
It’s pretty simple.
3. Power in the all wrong places
Years ago, when Terry Bowden lived a few blocks from me in Orlando and we used to meet and talk ball, the subject once turned to the power of Board of Trustee members.
“Jock sniffers,” Bowden snarled.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Tony Buzbee, jock sniffer.
Before last weekend, Buzbee was a successful Houston-based attorney who also happened to be on the Texas A&M Board of Regents. Then the Aggies blew a 34-point lead with four minutes to play in the third quarter against UCLA, and Buzbee officially became a man with power outside his profession.
Or at least, he thinks he has power.
Buzbee’s postgame rant on social media, where he opined that Aggies coach “Kevin Sumlin must GO” and that he would vote for firing him, underscored all that is wrong in college athletics. The perception is the Board – be they called “Trustees” or “Regents” – wields the power to hire and fire coaches.
But understand this: The only thing a university board does is hire and fire presidents and chancellors. Anything else can be placed in that all-encompassing box called jock sniffers.
The job of regents and trustees is to guide and protect a university’s fiscal plan and educational mission, not make decisions on coaches. When Bowden was at Auburn in the 1990s, the trustees were so powerful, they had sideline passes and would roam around during games.
If you have big-money trustees and regents on a sideline during game day, it only reinforces the idea of power where it shouldn’t be. Two decades later, trustees and regents don’t need to be on the sideline to underscore the ills of the sport.
They just need a Facebook account.
4. Find a way
Ron Zook used to call it the noise in the system, the unavoidable and uncontrollable shift in momentum would things go bad.
The “noise” is on the verge of sweeping up Florida coach Jim McElwain over the next two weeks – and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it.
“It’s the vocation we’ve chosen,” McElwain said. “It’s part of the gig.”
No one, though, could have imagined how quickly it turned on McElwain in a span of three hours. Before Saturday’s game against Michigan, McElwain was the coach who had led Florida to back-to-back SEC East Division titles, and the coach who talked this offseason about having his best team in Gainesville.
Then an ugly Michigan loss happened, and now Florida can’t block, doesn’t have a quarterback or legitimate SEC difference-makers on offense, and has a predictable play caller in offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Now, reality: It could get much worse for Florida – and much easier for the wacko wingnuts screaming for his job.
The Gators will roll FCS Northern Colorado this weekend, and quarterback Feleipe Franks will throw for a bunch of yards and touchdowns and the “noise” will subside for a few days.
Then Tennessee comes to town in Week 3, the same Tennessee that snapped an 11-game losing streak to Florida last season and needs to win as badly (see: embattled coach Butch Jones) as the Gators. Lose there, and the dynamic completely changes.
Those screaming for McElwain’s job (have you seen social media?) will have more ammunition, and the Gators then travel to an improved an motivated Kentucky team that has lost 30 consecutive games in the series.
You see where this is going, right?
“Put the ire towards me,” McElwain said. “I’m the one responsible for it, and I plan on getting it fixed.”
5. The Weekly 5
Five picks against the spread:
- Arkansas (+3) at TCU
- South Carolina (-2.5) at Missouri
- Auburn (+5.5) over Clemson
- Notre Dame (-6.5) over Georgia
- Mississippi State (-7) over Louisiana Tech
Last week: 4-1 (.800)
Season: 4-1 (.800).
6. A decision may be looming in Athens
Earlier this spring I spent some time at Steve Clarkson’s passing academy in San Diego, and watched some of top high school and college quarterbacks.
The original quarterback guru, Clarkson had both Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm at the camp, and was raving about Fromm’s ability.
“I love Jacob Eason; he’s going to play a long time in the NFL,” Clarkson said. “But (Fromm) is going to make him work for it, now. That’s a real deal quarterback, right there. I don’t know how it’s going to work (at Georgia), but both of those guys are big-time talents.”
Here’s how it’s going to work: With Eason out an undetermined amount of time with a sprained knee, don’t think Fromm doesn’t have a chance to win the job. If Georgia goes to Notre Dame this week, beats a very good Irish team and Fromm plays well, the decision about who starts moving forward may not be as tough as you think for coach Kirby Smart.
Fromm played well enough in spring drills and fall camp to push Eason for the starting job. He then went out and played nearly flawless against Appalachian State after Eason was injured in the first quarter.
The toughest schedule stretch in the SEC officially begins this week. Let’s all say a few novenas for Arkansas.
The Hogs begin a six-game stretch this weekend in Fayetteville against TCU, which Arkansas beat last year in double overtime. From there, get a load of this daunting task:
- Texas A&M (a desperate team).
- New Mexico State (a breather).
- at South Carolina (East Division sleeper).
- at Alabama (no words necessary).
- Auburn (beat Arkansas 56-3 in 2016).
8. Ask and you shall receive
Is Chip Kelly a real possibility for any potential openings in the SEC?
Mary Fleming, Dallas
Mary: Before every fan in the SEC begins dreaming of Chip Kelly’s Blur Ball offense on their campus, understand this: Kelly wants to coach again – but more likely in the NFL.
That doesn’t mean a university with the right financial package, facilities, administrative support and recruiting footprint couldn’t sway him back to college football. Alabama did it for Nick Saban, and that was, you know, beneficial for everyone involved.
Kelly was never big on recruiting when he was at Oregon; he’s more of an Xs and Os/figuring a way to beat you type of coach. He didn’t enjoy recruiting, at least not like some of the elite recruiters in the SEC (Saban, Kirby Smart, Ed Orgeron).
But if a university with deep pockets is willing to offer a ridiculous number (say, $6 or $7 million), you hire a staff of recruiters (like he did at Oregon) and see what happens.
I can count on one hand the numbers of universities in the SEC that would be willing to pay a coach $7 million a year, and only one (Texas A&M) could be looking for a new coach after this season.
9. A numbers game
This week’s number: 0.7 – the average yards per play Charleston Southern averaged last week against Mississippi State.
Yeah, but it’s FCS cupcake Chuck Southern, you say. Take a walk with me, people.
A year ago, when Mississippi State couldn’t stop anyone, the season opener ended with a 21-20 loss to South Alabama. A year ago, the Bulldogs gave up 35 points to UMass.
More to the point: A year ago, Mississippi State gave up 41 points to FCS Samford.
So when Charleston Southern gains 33 total yards on 47 plays, you better believe new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has made an impact. The Bulldogs are bigger and more physical up front, and can run in the back seven.
Ignore it all you want (including this week against Louisiana Tech), but wait and see how much better the Bulldogs play defensively in Week 3 against LSU.
The quote to note
“We understand if we play like we did (against Missouri State), we won’t win another game this year.” – Missouri secondary coach Ryan Walters.