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The NCAA's Challenge to Change in Evolving Landscapes



Challenge to Change
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As many of us enjoy college football and football in general, we are all getting ready for the first season of the expanded 12-team College Football Playoffs. Between conference expansion, the growing importance of the transfer portal and recruiting in general, and the explosion of the name, image and likeness (NIL) in college athletics, there always seems to be cause for concern with how much the game is changing.



With the recent settlement in the House v. NCAA case, the gap between the upper-tier teams and conferences has undoubtedly changed. Not only is there a continued separation of the "haves" and "have nots," but the questions remain in how the NCAA itself will react. Does the NCAA evolve with the changes or does it get swept up in the juggernaut that has been created.


With the changes, the NCAA is faced with a challenge to change at a pivotal point to evolve and continue its growth. With the recent ruling, as well as the constantly increasing income from TV deals for the universities, the NCAA is at an interesting point in its life, evolving with the changing landscape to stay relevant or fall by the proverbial wayside as the increased revenue to the schools and conferences becomes the driving force for a different era of not only college football but of college sports in general.


Does the NCAA help mitigate what has turned into the "Wild West" or will it expedite what could be a significant splintering of college sports?


Full-Time Recruiting

For such a vital part of the college football dynamic, recruiting has given coaches their fair share of frustration over the years. Between recruiting high school athletes for your program and the bonus of navigating the transfer portal, recruiting has become a full-time project for all coaching staffs.


Recruiting
© Katie Goodale/USA TODAY NETWORK

Coaches who have attacked both the recruiting trails as well as utilizing the transfer portal have been able to build programs for success in the "win now" mentality that football has become for so many coaches. Aside from the evaluation period that mirrors the high school football season for the upcoming season, the NCAA has created a dead period for recruiting where coaches and staff are not permitted contact with recruiting targets. To the benefit of coaches and their staff, the dead period is during bowl season and should allow for teams to focus on finishing the year strong and win a bowl game.


Prospect Rankings

But the question that throws a shadow over the recruiting process is how many stars a recruit has. It is also, where some changes could and should be made. First, ask yourself how much weight that rating should be given. The On3 website 2024 NFL Draft by Stars (On3.com) has an interesting tool that shows a breakdown of the players drafted and the stars they earned as recruits out of high school.



According to the database, most players drafted to the NFL had been rated three-star prospects when they entered college. Of the 1,290 total draft picks from 2020 through 2024, the rate at which former five-star athletes were drafted was higher at 64 percent compared to 23 percent for former four-stars. The more eye-opening number was that 622 former three-star recruits were drafted over the same time frame compared to 101 former five-star recruits.


While everyone (myself included) weighs the recruits that earn a five-star rating as the elite, it doesn't always contribute to being drafted into the NFL. Looking at whether the current ranking system is still the best or if a revamp is needed to encompass the player more accurately could help fix the next item on my list of changes required in the NCAA, specifically college football. Some coaches have already begun not to place any weight on the star ratings.



Truthful NIL Valuations

When NIL began in college athletics the floodgates opened and it became a "Wild West" of sorts. While the NIL is here to stay and get augmented by the recent settlement in the House v NCAA case, the question remains how does the NCAA try to control the purse strings? In the NIL era, the biggest issue has been transparency and difficulty in figuring out the true valuations from the bold proclamations.



The great Michael Jordan once said, "Nothing of value comes without being earned."


That should incorporate itself in the application of NIL money. The concept of opening up the proverbial checkbook for incoming freshmen—who have earned five- and four-star ratings at the high school level have not yet earned it at the NCAA level—is problematic at best. While some incoming freshmen will earn their spots and contribute to the teams' success, the majority sit for a season before fans of the university see some prospects on the field.



To take it a step further, especially in the wake of the recent House v. NCAA settlement, as far as money that comes specifically from the universities and NIL collectives, place limits on how the money is allocated to players based on year, and secondly based on incentives. Yes, it would be similar to a salary cap, but it would let the players earn it on the field rather than being given money without having played a down for their schools.


Transfer Portal

Like many, the transfer portal has been equal parts optimism and heartache. We all like seeing prospects land with our preferred programs, especially when they instantly produce breakout years for the new team. We also get a bit of a gut punch when a favorite player(s) on our teams leave for other schools and perform better at the new locations.


The growing issue is that similar to the NIL floodgates, the transfer portal floodgates have also been opened. Transfers are an inevitable part of college football of that we can all agree, however, there should be limits as to the number of times, as well as when one can enter the portal.



When freshmen enter the portal with little to no playing time at whichever school they started at, it raises at least a cautionary flag. There needs to be guidelines on transfers. Otherwise, especially with the NIL offerings, the college player is essentially shopping their services around seeking more money.


The NCAA could implement restrictions on when a player can enter the portal and how many times they can enter. For instance, make the transfer portal available to those who are, for example, a redshirt sophomore. If the player wants a bigger opportunity, he should be able to earn it. If they transfer, also have it be contingent on the player being in the new program for a specific period. There should be exceptions due to family or coaching changes—with the coaching changes exception being after a season with the new coach and staff.


Will Howard
© Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK

With the now Power Four conferences making their new members official, the NCAA is at a fork in the road of sorts. Will they be able to implement some guidelines for the NIL so that the money is earned for what the players do on the field for their college teams? Although it is out of the reach of the NCAA directly, could more coaches seek to disregard the star system currently in place for high school players as they recruit?


To say we live in an interesting time in college sports seems like an understatement, but very true.








1 Comment


Guest
Jul 04

Great, insightful, well-written article. 👍🏼

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