Ten days before college football’s spring transfer deadline, a Group of 5 head coach was fighting off covert efforts to swipe some of his best players.
This coach had buddies on SEC coaching staffs warning him. They were walking into their recruiting departments and noticing his players on highlight videos. “They let me know, ‘Coach, watch out. They’re about to take your kids,’” he said. He has won a few tug-of-wars with Power 5 schools trying to pay top dollar to poach his players. When one program recently tried to make an offer for one of his top offensive players, the senior brought it to the head coach. He called that school’s offensive coordinator, called him out and put a stop to it.
“Everybody keeps saying: Why won’t these coaches tell on each other?” the coach said. “I will if it gets to that point. So far, every time it’s happened, I’ve called the guy on the phone and they know I will go public. I’ve got enough evidence that would be bloody for them.”
Five years into the transfer portal era, Group of 5 coaches have come to accept that tampering is a fact of life and isn’t going anywhere. You win in these jobs by finding, signing and developing overlooked talent. But as soon as those players start thriving, transferring up becomes tempting.
Many times, players are simply betting on themselves and aiming for the NFL. But as more Power 5 staffs embrace advanced scouting of other teams’ rosters, the logical next step is persuading players to leave and locking them up before they hit the market. Coaches at the G5 level feel powerless to actually stop it. They don’t have the money to prevent it and don’t count on the NCAA to police it.
“When you’re not getting devastated by the portal, it’s not anything you’re doing right or wrong,” one veteran Group of 5 head coach said. “It’s just a blessing is all it is. Because it’s just a matter of time before you get picked apart. It’s not set up for success for the Group of 5 in any way, shape or form.”
The Athletic spoke with more than a dozen coaches and personnel staffers at Group of 5 and lower-tier Power 5 schools about tampering they’ve experienced and what they’re up against in this transactional age of roster management. They declined to speak on the record. Coaches rarely do: They know causing drama or villainizing players doesn’t reflect well on their programs, they rarely have actionable proof and they know almost everybody’s doing it. And so tampering persists as a regular yet unregulated part of the player movement market.
Yes, tempering the all the Wild West activities of the Transfer Portal, starting with tampering, should be addressed sooner than later.
Then again, it appears recruiting kids who fit your program and culture seems to better handle the issue. Avoiding the “over promise, under deliver” while recruiting these youngsters probably helps in the retention process, too.
Since all schools have a scholarship limit, theoretically, for every player that transfers up, one would transfer down or quit, yes? So, if I was a G5 coach, I would be looking to poach kids who won’t play for a P5 and give them a chance to play. NFL scouts see every player, regardless of where they play.
I get you hate hearing about Alabama but the thing they’ve done is get kids from G5 or smaller schools that were all-conference. In both hoops and football. It’s the one thing I would say I like about the transfer portal. It will suck for the smaller schools though. Although, many of the G5 schools are getting the Alabama and Utah transfers. I think some guardrails are needed but the portal can be a win-win.
The crazy thing is the NIL deals are not “HUGE” at the super power teams. They are however for the SC, Texas, Colorado, and others who are trying to get back in the game. It’s interesting to see the pitch from the Ohio, Alabama and Georgias that “We get guys drafted high. You can go elsewhere and make quick money or be reasonable now and make it when you sign with the NFL.”
We may have lived through the Wild West days the past few years and it seems to be getting a clearer picture. Which is pretty great if they can figure out how to take care of the players and make it a little more reasonable.