What does Adonai Mitchell’s transfer say about UGA? Nothing, really

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Adonai Mitchell, widely known as “AD,” worked four playoff games as a Georgia Bulldog. He caught a touchdown pass in all four. His score in Indianapolis put Georgia ahead of Alabama to stay. His touchdown in Mercedes-Benz Stadium brought the Bulldogs even with Ohio State; seconds later, Jack Podlesny’s PAT gave them a lasting lead. Those moments will live forever in Red and Black annals.

Adonai Mitchell, Georgia hero, just announced his entry into the transfer portal.

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Fans of all schools – not only Georgia – used to take transfers as a personal affront. “We cheered for this guy and now he’s leaving us?” This prompted the responses painful breakdowns always yield.

No. 1: “What did we do wrong?”

No. 2: “We’re better off without that ingrate.”

Back in the day – like, four years ago – transfers were complicated. You had to decide to leave. You had to prepare yourself to sit out at least a season. If your preferred destination was intraconference, you had to hope the program you were exiting would give you a release. (After a time, the NCAA became the arbiter of such waivers. Being the NCAA, its logic tracked no pattern.) If a release wasn’t forthcoming, you had to rethink your destination.

Now you enter the portal. No muss, no fuss. If you’re unhappy in your new environs, you can re-enter the portal next year. J.T. Daniels, once Mitchell’s Georgia teammate, mightn’t be the greatest quarterback in the world, but he has logged more portal miles than an IT troubleshooter. The Daniels totals: Six seasons, four schools, three transfers.

Auburn fans recall the Prayer at Jordan-Hare as a divine moment in a divine season. Georgia fans remember that the badly overthrown pass was thrown by Nick Marshall, who started his collegiate life as a Bulldogs cornerback, and deflected by Georgia defender Tray Matthews, who would, after a transfer, become Auburn defender Tray Matthews. Matthews had been bumped by then-teammate Josh Harvey-Clemons, who would transfer to Louisville.

Back in the day, that conglomeration of wayfarers was an exceptional occurrence. Now it happens in every meeting room in every team complex in the land. Here today, elsewhere tomorrow.

A staple of every painful breakup is: “It’s not you – it’s me.” Most of the time, that’s a lie. In transfers, it’s often the truth. Mitchell’s time in Athens was beneficial to all parties: The school has two national championship trophies he helped win; he has two rings. He’s not leaving because he wants to win bigger with a better program, it being impossible to win bigger than Georgia has and there being no better program. He’s leaving because …

He wants to leave.

The NCAA has gotten so much wrong that it was desperate to get something right. It created the portal, which empowered the athlete to do as he/she chooses. Thus does the NCAA have no releases to adjudicate, leaving it free to mishandle other matters.

It’s thought Mitchell will alight at Texas. He’s from Missouri City, which is outside Houston. He’s a sophomore, which means he’s a year from being able to declare for the NFL draft. He might see this as his chance to do as non-athlete students do – spend a gap year in an exotic place before settling into a job. (If you’re asking if Austin qualifies as “exotic,” to me it does. Not that Athens isn’t nice.)

That an important player is leaving Georgia says less about Georgia than the player. The portal has left players with most of the choices. NIL money has turned amateur players into professional businesspeople. Florida signee Jaden Rashada was just granted a release from his letter-of-intent; this happened after his NIL deal – for $13 million over four years – fell through.

Jahmyr Gibbs left Georgia Tech after two seasons, enrolling at Alabama. He became the most dynamic player on one of the nation’s top teams. Now he’s leaving for the NFL, his mission accomplished.

Jermaine Burton, who caught a touchdown pass for Georgia against Michigan in the 2021 playoffs, left for Bama and wound up with 14 more receptions but one fewer national championship than if he had stayed at UGA. The player makes the choices; the player also assumes the risks/rewards.

Nobody – not coaches, not teammates, not alums – should take outbound transfers personally. The portal has become a massive part of collegiate sports: It taketh away, but it also giveth. Georgia took no transfers last offseason; it has landed two of the top 22 transferees, both receivers, this time. Did the Bulldogs benefit from having Adonai Mitchell? Yes. Will they survive without him? Oh, yes.