TCU coach Gary Patterson doesn’t like the way college football is trending when it comes to transfers.
The NCAA approved Tate Martell’s waiver to play immediately following his transfer from Ohio State to the University of Miami, just like the sanctioning body did when Justin Fields bolted Georgia for Ohio State earlier this offseason.
“We better be careful,” Patterson said. “We won’t have college football. It’s disappointing, to be honest with you. It’s disappointing.”
Most underclassmen must sit out a season upon transferring. The exception has been for players who have graduated, or extenuating circumstances.
But the NCAA is approving more waivers than not these days, and the sport has what some feel is a budding “free agency” feel to it. Free agency keeps the NFL entertaining in the offseason and generates plenty of buzz around the sport, but Patterson doesn’t want to see that sort of model infiltrate the college game.
It’s starting to, though, after the NCAA modified the waiver guidelines last year. The new policy allows student-athletes to cite “documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”
That’s a vague and broad policy, and one that student-athletes have used to gain immediate eligibility. Martell and Fields are just the latest big-name players to get waivers.
Michigan’s Shea Patterson did so last year when he left Ole Miss, and several of his teammates followed suit. Attorney Tom Mars worked with Michigan on Shea Patterson’s waiver, and also helped Fields.
The NCAA does not appear interested in litigation, approving Martell’s waiver upon appeal. The NCAA and schools do not publicly explain waiver decisions, citing student privacy laws.
“I want the names of all those people [at the NCAA] that are deciding to do that, so everybody knows their names when they ruin the game,” Patterson said. “I don’t care if there’s lawyers involved. I don’t care if any of that’s involved. The bottom line to it is we need to do what’s best for the game.
“You [a student-athlete] have a bad day and a coach is trying to grow you up, and you say, ‘Well, now I’m going to go in the portal.’ When we start doing that ... that they get a chance to control how you get coached, then the process is done.”
Patterson said he expected to join a committee to ensure his voice and opinion would be heard by the NCAA.
The NCAA is reviewing its policy, but signs point toward players being able to go to new programs and play immediately for any reason they want.
According to the most recent NCAA data, per a 247Sports report, 51 of 64 NCAA players who appealed for immediate eligibility since the modified waiver guidelines have been approved.
That doesn’t sit well with Patterson, a coach who prides himself on “growing players up” throughout their college tenures.
Patterson estimated he’s had 700 players come through his program over the years, and not every player is pleased with him or the coaching staff every day. But that’s typically the case for anybody who goes through a college program or experience.
There’s ups and downs. But Patterson’s impact on his players is usually viewed favorably in the long run.
“After they get away from here, as a general rule, they come back as they mature and understand, they figure out what we were trying to do and accomplish,” Patterson said. “If you can’t go through that process with a young man, and grow them up just like a parent does, then we’re cheating them to be honest with you. That’s my personal opinion about it.”
Patterson is on board with how the rules have been implemented in previous years. If an underclassmen transfers, they must sit out a season. The exception is for student-athletes who have graduated.
Patterson feels the message of simply handing out waivers is the wrong one to send for all involved with college athletics.
“When you sign a lease on an apartment, and you don’t like the apartment, they just let you out and it doesn’t cost you anything? I mean, what? You can’t do that in life,” Patterson said. “I’m 59, so it’s different, but I want to protect it for the 29-year-old. I’ve had my days. I still hope that there’s some good ones left.
“But I want to protect the game, so that we can still put kids through a process and they can learn. It’s not just about football. It’s about growing up and how you can handle life and going on. The process is how you handle the hard times. That’s why all of us are better.”
Patterson also hates the notion of “free agency” in college football, and that student-athletes “deserve” the right to bolt to another program without consequences.
A commitment to a particular university should be honored, or there should be repercussions such as being sidelined for one season.
“That’s the problem. Nobody ‘deserves’ anything,” Patterson said. “It’s why people get fired. We all get fired at some point in time. It just happens. The bottom line for us is let’s just use common sense.”
At the end of the day, Patterson believes in how he’s done it over the years. He’s regarded as one of the top coaches in the country, and has turned TCU into a football power.
Patterson joked last month about avoiding recruits with “portal parents,” players he felt whose parents would encourage them to bolt if things went awry. But that’s always been his approach and it’s hard to argue it hasn’t worked with 167 wins in his career.
“You should always recruit guys that you think want to be part of a system so they can become great,” Patterson said. “I don’t think you can become great unless you go through a process.”