The old saying goes “The grass is always greener on the other side.” And for many college football players currently in a backup role, it seems the turf may be greener on the other side of the field, too.
According to a recent article in The Athletic, the prevailing attitude among many college football backups is, “If I’m not playing, I’m not staying.” And nowhere is the problem more notable than among quarterbacks.
Spencer Rattler came into the ‘21 season as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback and was considered a contender for the Heisman Trophy. After being benched mid-season, Rattler entered the transfer portal and landed at South Carolina shortly after the end of the Sooners’ regular season.
Top-ranked high school recruit Quinn Ewers left high school a year early to enroll at Ohio State and cash in on what were expected to be more than a million dollars in NIL deals. However, after getting only two snaps among a group of several top QBs, Ewers cashed out in Columbus and signed with Texas, having spent less than six months on campus.
Rattler and Ewers were joined by fellow former starting QBs Bo Nix at Auburn, Kedon Slovis at USC, Zach Calzada at Texas A&M, and many more who entered the transfer portal in search of more playing time. And quarterbacks aren’t the only projected backups looking for a fresh start. In fact, backup players’ desire for playing time has college football coaches actively using the transfer portal to fill holes with older, experienced players on both sides of the ball. The situation is such that one Power 5 coach told The Athletic, “If they’re not the starter or about to start, they’re gone.”
The Rule That’s Roiling College Football
While backup players transferring in search of playing time is nothing new in college football, actually doing so required a release from one’s current program and required a player to sit out a year before they could play for their new school. However, all that changed in July of 2021, when the NCAA ratified it’s “one-time transfer” rule and gave Division I athletes in every sport the freedom to transfer to another school and play immediately. After years of college programs holding all the cards, suddenly the players have all the power. Early on, it appears they’re happy to use it. Consider that, in the four recruiting classes between 2014 and 2017, roughly half of the Top 50 quarterbacks in each class ultimately transferred. That percentage has continued to rise each year since and, thanks to the new one-time transfer rule, it’s expected to soar in coming seasons.
Will Other College Sports Be Affected?
While football and basketball have been the first and most visible college sports to be affected by the new transfer rules, it’s hard to say if other sports and other athletes will so readily jump ship. However, if backup athletes in other sports have the same desire to get in the game as those on the college football and basketball benches, a transfer frenzy will likely occur elsewhere too. And, for now at least, if college coaches in other sports approach the transfer portal with the same zeal as football coaches, it’s equally likely that every bench warmer or backup will find plenty of opportunities for playing time at other schools.
Will The Portal Be An Easy Path To Playing Time?
Patience used to be the pathway to playing time. Today, it stands to reason that more transfers equates to more playing opportunities. However, regardless of what a coach may tell an athlete in the portal, simply transferring to another school may not mean more playing time today. While a player like Spencer Rattler or Quinn Ewers may be able to jump right on the field at less-talented programs, other backup players may make the harsh discovery that they were backup players for a reason. And, while most transfers might be a shining star when they arrive on campus, the next bright star could only be one transfer year or recruiting class away.
Ultimately, the hard truth is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, no matter what coaches or opposing players might say. But, for now it seems, college players are entering the portal expecting to fulfill their dream of more playing time on the other side. But dreams don’t always come true, and not every story has a happy ending. And making a move simply for more playing time may not pay off in the end.