If you’re a Huskies football who fan enjoys immersing in the recruiting minutia of letter intent day with all the gossip of which four-star kid went where and why, Wednesday was not a good day for you.
The Huskies rolled out a five-player class of business people.
The kids may or may not be good college football players — always almost impossible to know on LOI day, despite what the many recruiting services say — but they have come to campus on business, which is to play football for a good NIL cash deal and maybe pick up a class or three. And if the circumstances are not to their liking, they now have the means to go elsewhere, at least one time, without consequence.
Just like all of their coaches have done for more than a century.
One of those coaches who did that is Kalen DeBoer, who became the University of Washington’s head coach Nov. 29, succeeding Jimmy Lake, who was fired Nov. 14.
DeBoer finds himself in a mess.
He’s had time to hire just two assistants, had only six scholarship spots vacated by seniors, and is inheriting a 4-8 team from which several players are transferring and several potential newcomers have rescinded their oral commitments. And his previous team, 9-3 Fresno State, is partying in Albuquerque this week ahead of a match-up Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl against 7-5 Texas-El Paso.
But, hey, he’s getting paid $3 million this year.
“It’s a tough job,” he said, “but I enjoy it.”
He’s not complaining. And he’s not being a fraud. In big-time college football these days, that counts for a lot.
“I’m here, and just not long ago, I would never have thought that this would be where I would be,” he said. “I’ve sat in front of a team myself — the last game I was with them — and that team’s getting better, getting ready to play in a bowl this weekend” and told the Bulldogs he was leaving for a better gig in Seattle.
“At that time, I fully thought I would be there. So as coaches move, you got to try to find that that way where you can give players some freedom. That’s where it gets gets hard, because it does seem to be out of control — finding that balance.”
DeBoer was responding to a question about the degree of difficulty in managing a program, especially recruiting, in the era of the transfer portal, as well as permissible outside cash to players for use of their names, images and likenesses.
“It certainly is more difficult, no question,” he said. “You always used to feel like you just build this strong culture that made it hard for guys to want to leave, because they are involved in the friendships and relationships. Now, there’s definitely more to it.
“I know how to make it to where it will be hard (to leave). It’s been successful. If you look at (Fresno State’s) core guys the last two years, the key guys were all there. Some of those who left was a result of having a better opportunity to play more, which I totally get. This is coming from a small college guy who wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world, because of the friendships and memories that were special.”
Whether DeBoer’s persuasion works in big-time ball remains to be seen, because it is more a business than a college experience. But he’s smart enough to know than the changed circumstances that are empowering college athletes are good for them, and schools that embrace the new world will prosper longer.
Dabo Sweeney thinks otherwise. He wants and needs control, and he’s being thwarted.
The irascible coach who built Clemson into an empire, but dropped to 9-3 this season and a date in the Cheez-It Bowl, went all pouty about the changes. He made some national headlines Wednesday morning at his school’s LOI day.
“It’s crazy, it’s really sad, to be honest with you,” Swinney he said. “There’s right around 2,000 kids in the portal and most of them don’t have anywhere to go. There’s so much tampering going on and so many adults manipulating young people. It’s sad, but it is what it is . . . there’s a time and a place, but most of the kids are in there when they shouldn’t be in there.
“Some of the lessons we’re teaching young people I don’t think is going to benefit them well as they move through their life. (The transfer portal) is something everybody has to manage and deal with. There’s no consequences. There’s no rules. I’m all for transferring. I personally think we should let them go whenever they want. I think they should sit a year and then you get that year back upon graduation.
“What we’ve done is de-centivize and de-value education, and I think that’s the wrong approach.”
So noble to hear Sweeney plead for the sanctity of an education from a football factory like Clemson. He’s like a drunk pleading with the bartender after 2 a.m. And I’m gratified to hear that Swinney has held Clemson away from the tampering and manipulations that are a part of nearly every other big-time school’s recruiting. I thought it was a degree program at Clemson.
Many of his players will learn much, and benefit greatly, from earning compensation for their labors by being a part of, not apart from, the American capitalist system, which includes freedom of choice.
DeBoer sounds as if he looks at the changes a little differently.
I don’t know what the the solution is,” he said. “But whenever I talk to guys, I always want what’s best for them. I really hope being a part of our program (is it). But this window of opportunity to play college football is small, and you want them to enjoy it.”
That includes having the same freedom DeBoer and Swinney have had to improve their futures.