Opt outs. Transfers. Postponed or canceled games. Just part of the college football landscape in 2020.
Memphis has handled it while also dealing with more roster turnover than coach Ryan Silverfield expected in his first season. As of Tuesday, 12 players had opted out, transferred or taken a leave of absence.
Some of it was understandable as a few players announced concerns with COVID-19. But it also had Silverfield pondering how more players in general are transferring around the country, not just in Memphis.
"I think five years ago, coaches got really sensitive and were frustrated and angry when these things would occur because you know it's a direct reflection you'd always think on your program." Silverfield said Monday. "Now it's the norm.
"For me, I just sit back and say okay, these are things that are going to occur. So we have to be really, really careful and accurate in who we recruit and whoever we bring into our program. Guys that we think fit."
Sometimes that fit doesn't work, whether it's playing time or other reasons. With Memphis, Kenneth Gainwell and Coye Fairman cited COVID-19 as a factor in them opting out. Damonte Coxie, however, opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft and four players this month elected to transfer.
Of the four who transferred, only Titus Jones saw significant playing time this season.
Silverfield declined to address the number of players who left this season but said in general, if players transfer, he supports and understands their reasons. Looking around college football, however, he thinks more players are transferring because of what could come next year.
The NCAA Division I Council introduced a proposal in October that would allow all athletes to transfer once and be immediately eligible instead of sitting out a season. It will be voted on in January and if approved, it goes into effect for the 2021-22 season.
"I think a lot of people are assuming that, hey, this transfer thing is going to go through and so I can just hop in the portal and find a new date and I think that's part of it," Silverfield said.
It could change how rosters are managed in the future. Instead of looking for graduate transfers who could play right away, schools can also get immediate help from undergraduate athletes who may stick around another year or two.
Silverfield worried it could lead to a free agency-like climate in college football. But it could work both ways for Memphis. Obviously there's a concern if a Tigers player has a breakout year like Gainwell, would they transfer if they see an opportunity at a Power Five school?
On the flip side, the Tigers could also attract former Power Five players looking for a better situation. That happened with Brady White arriving in 2018 as a graduate transfer from Arizona State, and it worked out well for Memphis.
Instead of being angry or frustrated, Silverfield's learned to be more patient and let it play out. It could lead to an interesting offseason, depending on who returns and if seniors choose to use their extra year of eligibility.
Yet, he also wondered if the high transfer numbers are a sign of things to come if future NCAA legislation gets passed.
"Frankly it's scary. There's a lot of unknowns with it, a lot of coaches have a lot of unease, angst and uncomfort," Silverfield said of the potential one-time transfer exemption. "Right now, all I can do is take it one day at a time and go by what I can and try to take care of who we have on our current roster."
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