Mike Kays, Sports Editor

Mike Kays, Sports Editor

Recent weeks have brought Oklahoma Sooner fans a hard lesson. 

The times, they are a changing. 

First, Lincoln Riley bolted. Then Brent Venables with an assist from Bob Stoops, saved the day.

Now, Caleb Williams is doing the equivalent of a spouse leaving to explore other opportunities while maintaining he or she could return home like nothing ever happened.

Ah, this wild new game of college football, where National Letter of Intent is only good for a year, and a quarterback can be a millionaire before a sophomore English exam is passed.  Open transfers and player pay bring liberty and capitalism straight to the center of the game.

Good, some of us say, and pass the season tickets.

Maybe, maybe not. 

Depends on what you’re looking for.

Using overall numbers, a December 2020 report from the National Clearinghouse Student research Center last year, lateral transfers dropped 12.6 percent from 3.1 percent.  That’s all students, including athletes.

But with athletes, during 2020-21, 2,626 athletes entered the transfer portal, up almost a thousand from 2019-20, and it is clearly not to switch majors.

And just to be clear, football isn’t a major, no matter the countless hours of practice, off-season conditioning and film watching one does and no matter how many times the NCAA uses the phrase “student athlete” to describe them.

There’s a risk to this type move. 

Of 480 Power Five scholarship players 247Sports studied from the 2019-20 cycle, only 26.5 % of them stayed as a scholarship player on a P-5 roster. Another 26.3% signed with a G-5 program. Overall, 47.2% of P-5 scholarship athletes went to the FCS, junior college ranks or did not find a landing spot. Among the 826 FBS scholarship players 247Sports examined, only 37.8% stayed on the FBS level.

The grass isn’t always greener from another sideline.

But automatic transfer is here, and it’s not going away. Neither is the pay athletes now get through Name, Image and Likeness.

For years, proponents for compensating athletes have said it is long overdue for the hours one devotes in a system that at least at the highest level, pours cash into university coffers, sparks the economy of the community it resides, and richly rewards both administrators and coaches.

All of that has merit for kids. But the system in place isn’t equal pay for equal play. It’s a diva pageant, depending on one’s stars, another’s stats, and a program’s state of need.

And what it really isn’t is college football. Or college sports in general, but for this purpose, let’s stick with the elephant in the room, football.

In how many ways does a college court the regular student? One way, that being a scholarship. The better the student, the more prestigious the college. But it stops at a scholarship. Used to, at least legally, it stopped there for athletes too.

Today, that five-star quarterback can come straight out of high school and plop himself down on occasion in freshman English, as a millionaire. 

Nothing wrong with making money, but does anyone else see the problem here, let alone a young mind with no idea how to manage a million bucks or the vipers that sniff for that kind of money?

College is in spirit a preparation ground TO make money. For law students, doctors, nurses, teachers. And, for a scant few if you measure the percentages that make it, professional athletes.

For years, institutions have wrestled with how and to what level they should provide for the athlete who really doesn’t have the time amid the commitment to the program to work while going to school.  “Laundry money” doesn’t go very far.

But they spun their wheels, drug their feet, and recent events have forced a solution for them. 

Now, 3,000 NCAA football players are in the portal, looking for the next best deal.

If it were the NFL, it’s free agency. But it’s not, we keep being told, professional football, it’s football for student athletes.

That includes student athletes like former TCU running back Zach Evans. who as of Thursday is now an Ole Miss Rebel.  Evans is said to have a “solid grand point average” by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel in an article this week.

The top high school running back in his class nationally, Evans at one point was suspended by his high school coach twice during a playoff run to a state title, including the state championship game. A close look seems to say he had other agenda items unrelated to the team’s objective.  A month or so later, Georgia announced it was releasing Evans from his National Letter of Intent. When a top SEC school releases a top running back recruit, the eyes should widen.

Again, Evans was said to be a “good kid.” Maybe, but in a sport we are always told is a testing ground for life lessons, you wonder what the takeaway is for a kid who chunked his team twice.

There are others who unlike Evans, wouldn’t be described as good kids. Guys with crime sheets, hidden by the fact they are minors and a lifetime of being coddled by family, junior high and high school coaching staffs because of what they can do with the football. 

Some of those are portaling too.

And there are those kids with no apparent issue other than the fact they aren’t getting playing time.

All of them have the right to go to the portal. It’s the rules now. But what’s the educational value? Where does it connect to the genuine college experience? 

Some of us want to look the other way. If he’s doing it for our alma mater and doing it well, hey, it makes us feel good by association. Praise the Lord, pass the tailgate cuisine, and enjoy the Saturday campus party.

Meanwhile, Lincoln Riley could be poaching your quarterback. Another school’s alum can spend $25 to $30 million on a recruiting class. Texas A&M did just that to get the nation’s top-ranked group.

If we’re honest with ourselves, this is now minor league football at the highest level of the college game.

And until those administrators admit that, we’re simply winking at each other with the phrase “student athlete.”

What a farce.

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