The portal, NIL and betting


I may be out of my league on this one, but in my view, college football is losing its game. The University of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh saved their program by diving deep into the transfer portal, along with who knows how much was spent in Name-Image-Likeness (NIL). Loyalty to your alma mater? Forget about it.

Top-ranked players are flooding the zones of top-ranked football programs. It’s this simple: “Show me the money.” Lesser programs can’t compete with the promises of commercials, endorsements and other promotional activities that high-profile teams can generate with their national television presence. Smaller football programs increasingly suffer from the offenses of Power Five programs.

I remember when five Ohio State football players were given “gold pants” award trinkets for beating Michigan, and then sanctioned (suspended for five games) for trading their trinkets for tattoos. Yeah, “tattoo gate.” Now, players are making thousands of dollars for their NIL.

Nick Saban retired from Alabama and nine days later, 10 Alabama players entered the transfer portal. Ryan Day, at Ohio State, believed in developing his players over their three to five years at Buckeye Nation, but then he got overrun by Michigan’s new portal game plan tactics and maybe sign stealing as well.

Archie Griffin, Ohio State’s two-time Heisman Trophy winner, was the starting tailback at Ohio State for four years. That’s right, he didn’t even enter the NFL draft until he’d graduated after four years. Not only did he stay loyal then, but he’s been a loyal Buckeye ever since.

Since the end of the football season, 20 Ohio State players have entered the outgoing transfer portal to seek glory elsewhere. And in the incoming transfer portal, four all-star quality players have committed to Ohio State, and more may be coming as the portal reopens this spring.

Look, I’m not opposed to these guys getting something more than scholarships to play and attend Ohio State or any other college or university. They bring a ton of money into these big school programs. But is NIL the way to do it? Maybe, maybe not. But at least their compensation ought to be set aside in a trust fund until graduation. Want to enter into the transfer portal? Maybe there ought to be some disincentives, like having to wait a year in suspension before becoming eligible to play for the new team, along with those NIL benefits during the same suspension period.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned. Ask me where Jim Brown played college football for four years — Syracuse. Ask me where Tom Brady played college football for four years — Michigan. Ask me where Peyton Manning played college football for four years — University of Tennessee. Ask me where John Elway played college football for four years — Stanford.

In 2023, 55.7% of starting quarterbacks were transfers. In 2019, that number was 24%, according to ESPN. We live in an era, sad to say, where loyalty to the all mighty dollar far exceeds loyalty to any particular college or university.

My grievances don’t end with the portal and NIL. Sports betting is not only tarnishing college football and pro football but the lives of many, especially young men between the ages of 25 and 34.

Why is sports betting soaring? According to a report on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” there are 50 million sports bettors in America today, spending more than a quarter of a trillion dollars on sports betting. Yes, no bookies needed, just apps like FanDuel and DraftKings, apps that have made sports betting very cool. Of course, the flip side to cool is that betting is a losing game. Gaming companies are making billions of dollars as are sports leagues and state governments, but among the 25- to 34-year-olds there’s a growing public health crisis — gambling addiction.

One young man interviewed on the CBS program said, “The sports books’ commercials and the leagues themselves are making it look so cool, to gamble and risk your money.” Another said he knew of students using financial aid money to bet and others who have dived into their inheritances to sports bet.

Once again, it’s “show me the money.” The same former student commented that the sport books use artificial intelligence to know what you like to bet on, what time of day you like to bet, what teams and sports you gravitate towards and then through the apps and social media they barrage you with opportunities to get rich quick.

All this makes Pete Rose look like a rookie gambling artifact from a bygone era, but guilty, nonetheless.

Are NIL, portal transfers and sports betting likely to go away? I doubt it. What’s needed? Governments are happy to vacuum up their citizens’ money to balance budgets, even though they know that gambling can lead to addiction. But so can alcohol and cigarettes. We set rules on the latter with regards to advertising and marketing so perhaps we need to do the same with sports betting.

I’ll give recently retired Alabama football coach Nick Saban the last word here: “We’re moving in the sort of semi-pro direction in terms of, there’s pay-for-play now. We call it name, image and likeness, but that’s pay-for-play, basically – and I’m all for the players sharing in what’s happening (but) you’ve got guys transferring from one team to the next at will with very little guidelines as to how to control any of these things, and we’re gonna have a playoff very similar to the NFL.”

I happen to think Saban is right. You can bet on it.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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