College football’s mass transfer trend is a game of follow the leader

College football’s mass transfer trend is a game of follow the leader

College football players who are choosing to transfer aren’t doing anything worse than the coaches who break contracts to change jobs.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Jan 17, 2024, 9:00am CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Jan 17, 2024, 9:00am CST

(This story originally appeared in Jenni Carlson’s newsletter. Subscribe here.)

Kalen DeBoer met with his soon-to-be ex-players at Washington before leaving for Alabama. Audio of the meeting was leaked to Realdawg Huskies, and the coach sounds tearful. Down. Sad. 

But he wasn’t so sad that he changed his mind about leaving Washington for Alabama.

Safe to say similar teary scenes played out over the past few weeks at Arizona and Duke and Oregon State and Tulane and other college football programs that lost their head coach to a different team.

There were lots of them, too, just like always this time of year. The coaching carousel is out of control, and with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh interviewing for NFL jobs, the spinning may be far from over.

Remember this as we try to keep tabs on who is going where: every single head coach who changed jobs broke a contract. 

Remind me again how players transferring is the dishonorable part of college football.

DeBoer left Washington with five years remaining on his contract. Jedd Fisch, who is replacing DeBoer at Washington, left Arizona with four years remaining on his contract. And unless Arizona hires from within to replace Fisch, the new coach will more than likely be breaking his contract.

And people want players to be loyal? What about the grown adults? What about the men leading the programs, supposedly providing the examples and teaching the players? 

Where’s their loyalty?

Frankly, DeBoer and Fisch aren’t even the worst violators of their contracts. Mike Elko left Duke for Texas A&M with six years remaining on his contract with the Blue Devils. Jonathan Smith had the same amount of years remaining on his Oregon State contract when he left for Michigan State.

This isn’t just a Power Five phenomenon, by the way. Willie Fritz moved from Tulane to Houston, leaving three years on his contract with the Green Wave.

And it isn’t just a head-coach problem either. When Jeff Lebby decided to leave OU where he was offensive coordinator to become head coach at Mississippi State, he had a year remaining on his contract with the Sooners.

Yes, all of the coaches who left had buyouts that were paid, so the universities were compensated for their departures.

Sure, you can make a strong argument that all of them left for better jobs, too.

But coaches have set and are continuing to set a precedent that players now have the opportunity to follow with the transfer portal. For years, transferring wasn’t quick or easy, but now, players can change allegiances as quickly as their coaches can. How could anyone blame players for looking for a better situation? Or for seeking more name, image and likeness money? Or for taking an opportunity to play at a higher-profile program?

Players are just doing what coaches have been doing for decades.

Players, by the way, don’t have multi-year contracts. Their financial aid agreements are contracts that schools can choose to terminate or renew annually. 

Coaches, on the other hand, have multi-year deals. They are breaking signed contracts when they leave. Where’s the outrage over that lack of loyalty? Where’s the indignation over the adults in the room setting a poor example for the youngsters?

Why wouldn’t lots of players choose to transfer?

They’re just following the leaders.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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