Kirby Smart’s whining about NCAA transfer portal is music to my ears

The transfer rule the NCAA adopted last year is a good idea that didn’t go far enough. Players generate mountains of revenue but receive very little of that money, so they at least should have more power to decide where they play. Prohibiting coaches from blocking transfers was a small, positive step toward more fairness for players. 

The benefit of the rule for me is hearing coaches whine about it. This is particularly the case with college football coaches, whose ranks are filled with hypocrites and authoritarians lacking in self-awareness. It’s amusing when people like that play the victim, and the coaches have come through just like I expected. 

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com recently checked in with some prominent coaches for their views of the transfer rule seven months after it went into effect. You won’t be surprised to learn that these coaches have some concerns about players being able to enter the transfer portal while coaches can’t do anything about it.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart is among the moaners. 

“My biggest problem with the portal is that it gives kids an easy way out,” Smart told Dodd. “I know the devil's advocate of players’ rights and they should be able to go wherever they want to go. But I'm telling you, no normal parent would say, ‘At the first sign of trouble, I want my son to run.’” 

Give Smart credit for considering both sides. On the one hand, Smart believes players who generate millions of dollars for their schools without market compensation should have a right to work where they please. On the other hand, if players transfer at a time and for reasons that Smart doesn’t like, then they are cowards with bad parents. 

Listen, Smart is just looking out for the kids. Players who aren’t happy with their work situation should stick around. That builds character. It’s likely a coincidence that talented players staying put at Georgia helps Smart build his bank account, which will swell by at least $49 million by the end of his latest contract. 

It’s not the first time Smart has moaned about the transfer portal. He also complained during a Sirius XM interview in April. Said Smart: “People can say, ‘Well, coach, you are free to go wherever you want to go’ (but) we also have a contract and they are free to fire us anytime they want.” 

Yes, coaches have contracts. Those contracts pay them a salary. Coaches usually are owed money if they are fired before the end of those contracts. And coaches regularly receive new, better contracts before their current deals end. 

Other than those minor differences, Smart makes a good point about coaches facing similar career restrictions as players. 

Smart knows how it goes. He worked at three schools within his first five years of coaching, then four different jobs over the next four. Presumably Smart was looking for better career opportunities, as many people do, and not running away from challenges.

Now Smart is near the top of his profession. He was under contract at Georgia when he received a $49 million deal that made him the sixth-highest paid head coach. If Georgia fired Smart now, it would owe him about $28 million.

Smart and his coaching colleagues benefit from a free-market system that’s available to pretty much every class of worker in the U.S. except for NCAA athletes. The NCAA’s collusive, exploitative system operates with the blessing of the Congress and the courts. The NCAA is undergoing modest reforms that benefit players only because the money has gotten so big that more people, including lawmakers, have started noticing the imbalance. 

It’s telling that Smart and other coaches gripe about the transfer portal even though there remain major disincentives for players using it. 

Players must sit out for a season if they transfer to a school at the same or higher NCAA level. The exceptions are if a player has graduated, or if they are get a hardship waiver from the NCAA. 

Those waivers have been granted to some high-profile transfers, including quarterback Justin Fields, who left Georgia for Ohio State after last season. No surprise that the waivers are another reason for multimillionaire coaches to wail about the unfairness of it all. 

In addition to the transfer restrictions, there’s another deterrent for players looking to leave. 

“Once we see you're in the portal, you can be cut,” Smart told Dodd. 

It’s weird that Smart said that. No way would he or any other coach use the threat of cutting a player to dissuade them from putting their name in the transfer portal. Remember, these coaches are looking out for the best interests of the kids. 

Mind you, the transfer portal does nothing to change the NCAA’s sham “amateur” system. 

Coaches still can bolt for other jobs with no NCAA restrictions and players still can’t. Coaches still can be multimillionaires while players earn no salaries. The NCAA still will receive more than $1 billion in revenue, most of it from selling the rights to televise the games that people watch to see those athletes perform.

All the transfer portal does is give NCAA athletes a tiny bit of power to control their careers. That’s enough to make Smart and other coaches whine.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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