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Lane Kiffin is realizing that college football players are now able to act like coaches every offseason.
With the regular season over and the early signing period for high school recruits set to begin Wednesday, many players who are looking to transfer have been actively searching for their new schools this month. As players put their names in the transfer portal, coaching staffs have to keep an eye out for players they want to add for the upcoming season while also prepping for bowl games if their teams are eligible for the postseason.
Players are also now able to make money off their name and image rights. This is the first offseason where transferring players can consider how much money they can make in endorsements when choosing their new schools. And Kiffin says that money is now an overriding factor for many players when it comes to their transfer decisions.
"I don't think people really say it this way, but let's not make a mistake: We have free agency in college football," the Ole Miss coach told the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger. "The kids a lot of times go to where they're going to get paid the most. No one else is saying that, maybe. But the kids say, 'This is what I'm getting here from [name, image and likeness].' "
It's easy to see why Kiffin isn't exactly thrilled with the reality of the transfer portal. Thanks to new NCAA rules, players can transfer and immediately be eligible at their new schools. The loosening of the transfer rules has led to more players searching for better opportunities, even before they were able to make endorsement and sponsorship income. More transfers has led to more work for coaches to keep players from transferring and actively recruit transferring players to upgrade their teams.
"Right now you're practicing for bowl games," Kiffin said. "We had a player not here [Monday] because he's still on his official visit to another place. Just really think about that. It's very strange. I had a recruiting weekend this weekend where I had to fly out really quick to go see someone that's at another school but is in the portal."
But why shouldn't players be afforded the same offseason reality that coaches have been experiencing for years? Coaches have been free to change jobs this time of the year for decades. And money has often been a driving factor. Former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly left the Irish while the team still had a chance at making the College Football Playoff. Ex-Louisiana coach Billy Napier was hired by Florida before the Ragin' Cajuns played in the Sun Belt title game.
Oh, Kiffin left Florida Atlantic for Ole Miss before the Owls played in the Boca Raton Bowl at the end of the 2019 season.
Look, there's a lot of things that aren't perfect in college football but the ability for players to play right away and make money off their own likenesses are two huge steps toward fixing the longtime systemic inequities in the sport. Coaches like Kiffin and Mississippi State coach Mike Leach are far more used to a college football where those inequities were an unaddressed reality and simply the way things were and should always be.
And let's be real, the transfer portal and name, image and likeness process would probably be a lot less messy for players and coaches if the NCAA and its member schools had been proactive to make incremental and well-thought-out change. Instead, the portal and the current NIL rules are the products of rash decisions after years of procrastination by those in charge of college sports.