John P. Lopez – College football’s brutal recruiting reality: Put up or shut up

Clemson Football Coach Dabo Swinney talked to the media at National Signing Day at Clemson University on Dec. 21, 2022. Coach Swinney talked about how special he thinks this year’s signing class is for Clemson football. Pgre Signing Class Clemson02

John P. Lopez – College football’s brutal recruiting reality: Put up or shut up

The moral dichotomy among college football coaches is nothing new.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney might have taken it to a nauseatingly different level Wednesday, after signing another sterling class. But saying one thing high and mighty while being something altogether different and reptilian behind the scenes has been around forever.

Knute Rockne probably even slipped a couple bits into his star back’s culottes back in the day — just for the train ride home and a little something for the kid’s girlfriend. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked. All is fair, etc., etc., etc.

Even during the most notorious of pay-for-play times in college football history, in the old Southwest Conference, the most morally contradictory figures of all were Gov. Bill Clements, a devout Christian, and golly-gee-willickers Bible-thumping TCU coach Jim Wacker. Together, they knew of and encouraged improperly paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to players at SMU and TCU. Ultimately, they saw their programs shut down and/or placed on severe NCAA probation.

God bless football.

Now that it’s all above-board and the rich are getting richer, let’s not start pointing judgmental fingers and acting aghast when 17-year-olds not only are cashing in, but using leverage to weigh pros and cons and, if it doesn’t work out, using the NCAA’s transfer portal to find greener pastures. This is not something new, either. It’s the search for the best, most profitable opportunity. You do it. I do it. Everyone does it and always has.

So let’s not buy into UTSA coach Jeff Traylor’s clutching of pearls when he spoke this week about other programs “poaching” his players. You mean … a job offer? With perhaps better opportunities and pay? Yes, current NCAA rules say coaches should not contact other players before they’re in the portal. But legally, the stipulation never has been tested, and legal scholars have said if any program ever did test it, the rule doesn’t have a cleat to stand on. What Traylor really is upset about is his boosters haven’t stepped up their games to an elite level.

And let’s not gasp and pant in shock when Washington State coach Jake Dickert calls it “stunning” that opposing coaches tampered with his players and recruits. And — oh, yeah — for the love of, yes, God, let’s not buy Dabo Swinney saying his program was built on God’s “name, image, and likeness.” That’s a giant load of Carolina byproduct.

As the early national signing day wrapped up in college football Wednesday, never was it more clear that while coaches continue to try to uphold the tradition of coming off looking like men of God, country, and puppies, the reality is the game never has been more about pay-for-play.

Dabo Swinney tried to pull it off again Wednesday. He didn’t.

For one thing, 2022 has been quite the year for Clemson’s name, image, and likeness initiatives. Two major collectives – basically, organized Sugar Daddies – raised more than $16 million for Tigers athletes, according to reports. Clemson accordingly came in with the No. 11 class in the country after an off-year on the field.

Remember Alabama coach Nick Saban chastising Crimson Tide boosters about Texas A&M’s big class last year? Remember Saban saying they needed to step up to match the Aggies? The pitch worked – Saban landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, with multiple players connecting with the Crimson Tide’s much bigger collective. While Saban obviously has worked magic for years, he rattled enough cages that the Alabama collectives are deeper than ever.

What about Nike money? Who wants some? Oregon flipped three five-star players on signing day and finished with the No. 7 class. You think it was because of the Drama Department or scenic views? Phil Knight is digging deep. What about Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns, who tore up the recruiting trail and landed the No. 3 class, after back-to-back well below-standard seasons? The crown jewel of the class was Arch Manning. Reports had Manning’s NIL value at $3.4 million … that’s how you Hook ’em.

And then there are the Aggies, who arguably had the most disappointing season in the nation based on preseason expectations in 2022. After all was said and done, it didn’t really hurt too much, even after multiple transfers. The Aggies finished with the No. 14 class in the country with two five-star and 10 four-star players.


Today’s college football landscape is the same as it’s always been, except the quiet things are being said out loud, and the things done in the shadows have come to light.

Players have leverage now. Parents have leverage. They’re using it, and good for them.

If your team didn’t have the signing day you thought it would, the message is simple. Get better. Raise more. Pass the hat. Build a collective that can compete. That’s how today’s college football game is played, and if you can’t hang, then don’t complain.

Of course, it’s not fair, but it’s never been fair. Despite all the transfer-portal angst and huffing about transfers and what others are doing, those who didn’t get it done this week won’t get it done until they realize something very important.

The more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same. You get what you pay for.

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