Here’s hoping UCF wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe finds what he’s looking for in the transfer portal, gets a huge free-agent offer from some made-of-money NIL collective at a storied program, becomes a star all over again and gets drafted into the NFL.
Here’s hoping he doesn’t end up like his former teammate Jaylon Robinson, another former UCF star wide receiver who entered the transfer portal last offseason, presumably got a modest NIL deal from Ole Miss, spent most of the season as an injury-plagued benchwarmer and ended his senior year with 5 catches for 29 yards.
Moral of the story: Sometimes the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence only because it’s growing over the septic tank.
And we all know what’s inside the septic tank.
With O’Keefe and more than a thousand other college football players entering the transfer portal when it opened on Monday, let us first acknowledge that these players are doing nothing wrong if they are riding the pine on their current team and are simply looking for a fresh start and an opportunity to play elsewhere. And if they are stars on their current teams, they are certainly doing nothing wrong if they have been offered six- or seven-figure NIL deals to play elsewhere.
After all, who wouldn’t want to leave college with a nice $500,000 or $1 million nest egg in the bank? Even if these players never play a down in the NFL, that’s more money than most of us will ever have in the bank at one time during our lifetimes.
I just hope these established star players at up-and-coming programs like UCF aren’t leaving because some NIL booster collective at a bigger, richer school is offering them $30,000 or some other relatively small signing bonus. By the time you pay taxes and give your agent a commission, what do you really end up with?
I don’t know what sort of NIL offer Jaylon Robinson got from Ole Miss, but I’m guessing it wasn’t worth it. At UCF, he was an absolute star with “NFL” written all over him, but after one awful season at Ole Miss he now has no shot at the NFL Draft. There’s no other way of putting it except to say Robinson was a resounding transfer portal bust.
As you can tell, I’m struggling a bit with unrestricted free agency in college sports. I acknowledge student-athletes should be able to enter the portal and transfer wherever they want for as much money as they can make. But it doesn’t mean it’s good for the long-term health of the sport or the long-term well-being of the athletes themselves.
Think about this: More than half of the players who enter the transfer portal will not be offered a scholarship by another school. Last year, according to Sports Illustrated writer Richard Johnson, 3,085 college football players entered the portal and only 866 (28%) found a landing spot. Moreover, not even 1% of college football and basketball players will ever get a sniff of the NFL or the NBA.
And, so, doesn’t it stand to reason that the vast majority of college athletes would be better off sticking it out, keeping the guaranteed scholarship at their current school, re-dedicating themselves athletically and – don’t laugh – focusing on academics and getting a college degree?
I hate to sound like an old fart, but wasn’t the true mission of college athletics supposed to be to give kids — many of whom wouldn’t otherwise have the resources — an opportunity to get an education, a college degree and end up with a decent job?
I go back to a conversation I had a few months ago with UCF athletics director Terry Mohajir, who has publicly guaranteed a job or graduate-school placement for every student-athlete who gets his degree from UCF. Mohajir was passionately perturbed that the value of an education has been lost in the NIL world we live in today.
“We have to continue to keep our student-athletes and their education at the top of mind,” Mohajir told me. “But when I say something like that, everybody says that’s a bunch of athletic-director B.S. Well, it’s not B.S.; it’s why many of us got into this business. Somehow, we have allowed education to be devalued in college sports. We’ve allowed the media to devalue it. We’ve allowed the trial lawyers to devalue it. We’ve allowed our national leaders to NOT talk nearly enough about it.
“Besides the G.I. Bill, there has never been a scholarship program to help the youth of America change their family’s circumstances more than intercollegiate athletics. We don’t talk enough about how much good comes from college sports.”
Forget the media, the trial lawyers and the politicians, aren’t the athletes themselves (and their families) devaluing education when they jump from school to school to school for a few thousand dollars? Do you realize that nearly one-third of college basketball players are on their third school? And what about West Virginia quarterback JT Daniels, who just entered the transfer portal and is looking for his fourth school? Hell, it’s hard enough to graduate from one college, let alone trying to transfer credits and start a new curriculum two, three or even four times.
Once again, I want to wish good luck to Ryan O’Keefe and the hundreds and hundreds of other college football players who entered the transfer portal this week.
Just remember, there’s a reason the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.
Many times, it’s because that grass has been fertilized with a bunch of horse manure.
Email me at [email protected]. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2