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Column: Transfer portal gives college athletes freedom of choice

This isn’t some science fiction film where invaders from outer space threaten to destroy college athletics. Heck, if there’s an alien out there with a knockdown jumper, the transfer portal won’t discriminate.

E.T. would find a spot somewhere.

I’ve been all-in on the portal since its birth in 2018. I’m also all-in on the NCAA Division I Council’s decision this week to grant every athlete the ability to transfer once and be immediately eligible.

It’s not a vote for chaos. Just fairness.

Coaches are reason

According to Axios Sports, there are nearly 4,000 football and basketball players — men and women — in the transfer portal.

Ten seconds have passed. Ten more names just plunged into the pool.

Baylor basketball won the national championship and 54 percent of its scoring came from transfers. Good for the Bears.

The ironic (expected?) part about all of this is that those who complain most about the massive number of annual transfers are the ones who created such a cyclone of movement. The coaches.

Not all of them. Many accept the situation and have proven quite adept in this new and frenzied world. I mean, they’re not all hypocrites.

But know that a major reason the portal exists is because coaches had blocked student-athletes from transferring to specific schools and conferences, even if those moves clearly were a better fit for their career and future and, well, life.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan once ruled 25 schools off-limits for one of his players who was considering a transfer. That’s the same Bo Ryan who departed Wisconsin-Milwaukee after two years as head coach for Madison before his contract was up.

Wonder how those Milwaukee kids he had recruited felt.

Before the portal, coaches essentially held kids ransom — no matter how much they might have deceived them about playing time or a specific role or that the staff which recruited them would remain intact.

Athletes have as much right to freedom of choice as those coaches who depart one job for another.

My son transferred from George Washington to Baylor after his sophomore year. Why is it O.K. for him and not a football or basketball player?

We know all about Chris Beard, who wore a UNLV basketball polo for 19 days before heading to Texas Tech. He’s off now to Texas because there aren’t five better college coaches, and bigger, richer more powerful Power 5 programs keep chasing him.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, along with countless other such examples across college sports. Few among us would reject a promotion for (much) more money and greater resources.

But if you’re going to bang the antiquated drum of lost loyalty to a program — please don’t — then hold coaches just as accountable as athletes.

I don’t believe either should be — welcome to the reality of collegiate athletics in 2021 — but certainly not one over the other.

More to come

Brace yourself. Now that the one-time transfer rule has arrived, the portal just might overload to the point of self destruction. Hope not.

It’s a new world. A totally new culture. You don’t build a program to win now. You build a team. Which means coaches need to be ultra creative with roster management. Earn their salary.

“Anything that’s better for the student-athletes I think is better for the game,” said first-year UNLV coach Kevin Kruger, who is rebuilding his roster with transfers after 10 returning players hit the portal. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing … Just like you saw here, I don’t think guys leaving were because we didn’t have a strong relationship … There’s no hard feelings because of the relationships we had. We were able to speak freely with each other. … Everybody can be happy at the end of it.”

A coach who gets it.

Not all of them do. But they better start. Those who don’t will get left behind.

The portal is here to stay. As it should be.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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