Lane Kiffin has used the transfer portal to his team’s advantage. But that doesn’t mean he likes the NCAA’s current transfer rules.
The Ole Miss coach used much of his opening statement at SEC Media Days on Thursday to espouse on what he felt were the downsides of the NCAA’s transfer and name, image and likeness rules. Kiffin compared the twice-a-year windows for players to transfer to free agency in his opening statement as he said the current transfer system “is not in the best interest of college football.”
“I was just thinking on the plane ride over here, what if you had that in other sports? Tom Brady, A’Jai Wilson, Lionel Messi, LeBron James, what if every year [they] can opt into free agency, twice a year, really, and they have no long-term contracts? Basically everybody is not even on a one-month contract because they can leave in two windows,” Kiffin said.
“It’s created a lot of issues and roster changes. I’m not complaining about it because we take advantage of free agency, but at the same time, I don’t think that’s really good for college football. These massive overhauls of rosters every year, really, is not in the best interest of college football.”
Undergraduate players were first allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year in 2021 along with the NCAA’s rollback of its previous rules barring players from making money off their image rights. The transfer rule change immediately led to more players choosing to switch schools; roughly 2,000 football players put their names in the transfer portal after the 2022 season.
Kiffin first used the free agency analogy regarding the transfer portal in December of 2021 when he said that kids “a lot of times go to where they’re going to get paid the most.” He reiterated those sentiments on Thursday. He was asked by a reporter in attendance where Ole Miss’ boosters ranked in the SEC and Kiffin had to hold back his true feelings about name, image and likeness compensation affecting where players choose to play football.
“I am not about to start putting rankings out on boosters from top to bottom in the conference,” Kiffin said. “God I want to so bad though. [SEC commissioner Greg Sankey] said, ‘Remember, we’ve grown a lot and you don’t have to respond to every question to show everybody you have the answer.’ So I’m going to do that in this situation.”
“But like I said kind of before, you want to look at the best boosters in the country and eventually the schools that have the most money that decide to pay the players, just look at recruiting rankings the next few years. That will give you your answer.”
What’s the fix for the current situation?
Kiffin isn’t alone among coaches who are wary of the way the player rights movement has changed college athletics. And it’s worth noting that the NCAA had decades to make thoughtful changes to its archaic system of amateurism and declined to do so before it hastily made changes after it was pressured by state governments around the country.
But Kiffin also admitted that he wasn’t sure what the best way to fix transfer and NIL rules was.
“I tell our staff, I don’t like you to tell me the problem but not the solution,” Kiffin said. “So I feel like that in this one, that I don’t have the exact solution because it is so complicated … Because I used to say they should be employees so they can have real contracts, so when they come, you can sign somebody to a two, three, four-year contract. But there’s way more issues. That solves one problem but opens up more when they are actually employees of the university.”
“I don’t have the exact answers.”
Sankey and other leaders in college football have been looking to Congress for answers regarding NIL rules and might have gotten some progress on that front on the same day Kiffin spoke in Nashville. Hours before Kiffin took the podium, Yahoo Sports reported that three U.S. Senators had released a bipartisan discussion draft of legislation that would govern NIL rules for all schools.
The draft, however, is just that. A draft. It hasn’t been introduced in Congress and there is no timeline to do so. The fix that Kiffin and others so badly want in college football may not happen for a while.