Monday Rewind: College football found its Darth Vader in the 'Tampering' Trojans
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Hope the weekend was good to you. It was certainly eventful. Let’s dive in.
USC, Pitt, and the transfer portal
Overnight, Lincoln Riley went from college football villain to college football eradicator. Meet your new Darth Vader.
All it took were a couple of tweets that made sure to include “USC” and “NIL” and the pitchforks came out and the torches were lit. The march along the Palos Verdes Peninsula had its route plotted. USC induced a commitment from a player who wasn’t yet in the transfer portal by throwing more money at them than anyone else could match.
But the sanctity of the sport!
Reports surfaced on Friday night that star Pittsburgh wideout Jordan Addison was considering entering the transfer portal and considering USC as his next school and there may or may not have been some kind of NIL package presented to him. Some reports suggested he’d already made up his mind on leaving Pitt. National outlets reported that Addison’s decision was less of a decision and more of a mulling.
There were reports of a seven-figure NIL package should Addison head for Los Angeles.
There were reports that Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi called Lincoln Riley to voice his displeasure over what Pitt officials deemed to be tampering.
There was speculation that people on the Pitt side of things matched the NIL package Addison may or may not have been offered.
And, as Sunday night came to a close and the deadline for a player to inform their school in writing of their intention to enter the transfer portal passed, there was no declaration from Addison. Perhaps that is forthcoming. Players just had to turn the essay in by 11:59 p.m., their professor can take another two days before the grade is due. (The wait was always the worst.)
Maybe that announcement comes. Maybe, by the time you’re reading this, it already has. Maybe it doesn’t.
Even if Addison doesn’t end up at USC, the picture has been painted clearly.
Strap in for what’s about to be LeBron-to-Miami 2.0.
Every non-Angeleno is going to be rooting for two things on Saturdays this fall—their team to win, and Riley’s to lose.
There will be no tweet too harsh. No talking head without a take. The triumphant opponent will make jokes. The world will join in and laugh with them.
We’ve seen college football villains before, but the degree to which USC is now feels fresh.
For USC, that probably isn’t all bad. You want to be talked about. You want to be relevant. You don’t want to be a laughing stock but the Trojans should be, at minimum, an above-average team so that shouldn’t be much of a concern. Maybe the team relishes in becoming a villain. It certainly fueled the Golden State Warriors and the New England Patriots and any other team that has turned hate to begrudging respect.
But it also seems a little misplaced.
“Well, this individual situation, Pat Narduzzi, please give me some evidence of tampering, and if you have evidence, and if you have it on film, then tell me who you’re going to? Where do you go with that?” ESPN’s Paul Finebaum said during an appearance on the “McElroy and Cubelic In the Morning” radio show on Monday. “The NCAA’s not concerned, they don’t really care. I just laugh when I hear coaches get upset. It makes no difference whatsoever because we have legalized cheating out there right now.
“Getting a chance to sit with coaches both on the air and especially off the air just confirms everything we are talking about here on a regular, daily basis. There is widespread cheating out there. There is widespread tampering. It is as pervasive as I think it’s ever been.”
Lincoln Riley, though, is the face of it.
The stark contrast between the Jahmyr Gibbs transfer to Alabama and the prospect of a Jordan Addison transfer to USC—the way it was covered and the way it was reacted to—is fascinating.
“Well, but those are two completely different situations.” Well, but they’re not. Not entirely. They’re different in so far as the team around the player was better. If Jahmyr Gibbs ran for 1,500 yards behind Wisconsin’s offensive line and then transferred to Alabama while Jordan Addison caught 400 yards in a Navy offense and then transferred to USC, would Alabama receive the same heat Riley and the Trojans have received? Probably not. Gibbs is uber-talented and some think he can run for damn near 1,500 yards in the Alabama backfield. What if that player, who Alabama just gleefully plucked from hapless Georgia Tech, won the Doak Walker? Would we retroactively scold Nick Saban? Of course not.
Some seem to think Georgia Tech was grossly misusing Gibbs in the backfield and that’s justification for leaving. He got 232 carries in 19 games. The team he played on wasn’t good. He traded up.
Addison has seen the quarterback who helped him to a Biletnikoff depart for the NFL and the offensive coordinator who constructed the offense within which he flourished depart for another school. Maybe, after giving it a go in spring ball, he wasn’t super thrilled about Kedon Slovis? Maybe he wasn’t clicking with Mark Whipple’s replacement? If he transfers and if he picks USC, he traded up.
But the immediate rush to include “USC offered him NIL money” into the situation reframed the entire discussion.
Consider the sources. Some directing the conversation on the topic don’t seem to care for USC’s head coach. Of the three parties involved—Addison, Pitt, and USC—only one stands to benefit from getting all this information out there even before the player had actually gone into the portal.
Consider that none of this is actually anything anyone else wouldn’t do if presented with the opportunity. This is the business of sport. Big-money paychecks mean high-bar standards to clear and when the NCAA loosely defines what can and can’t be done, no one should be surprised when the sanctity of sportsmanship gets a little bent. Until the NCAA starts operating from a place of leadership rather than a place of fear over antitrust litigation, there won’t be much enforcement and this will keep happening.
If entities are operating in gray areas to influence player movement, and you think that’s ultimately damaging to the longterm health of the sport of college football, we are in agreeance there. But if the NCAA wants to curtail NIL’s influence in recruiting, it has to try and once again restrict the transfer portal. That both are a loosely flowing, largely unregulated marketplace is what’s causing problems. Until there are firmer ground rules, this won’t be a one-off.
Lincoln Riley didn’t create this problem.
The NCAA deserves this fire.
It’s just much easier to throw it at Riley. Here’s hoping the Spirit of Troy knows The Imperial March.
Closing thoughts from the NFL Draft
>> Jacksonville should have taken an offensive lineman first. But, to trade back into the first round and get Devin Lloyd where it did was a win. He’ll have a long career.
>> As the draft came to a close and a number of Pac-12 guys most thought would hear their names called during the draft started agreeing to UDFA deals, I thought about the COVID waiver of 2020. Players like Oregon’s Verone McKinley III had eligibility to return to school, but they gave it up to enter and stay in the draft. For someone like McKinley who’d already been in school four years, I wonder how much those decisions were influenced by just being done with that aspect of their life, being ready to move on? Another year of ball also means another year of school. For some, that’s just not a good tradeoff.
Shoutout of the week
>> Utah stickball: After losing five of six, Utah’s baseball squad has rebounded nicely. They won Friday and Saturday affairs with then-No. 20 Arizona to claim a weekend series in mid-April, beat BYU in a mid-week game on April 19, won a series against USC two weekends ago, and then downed then-No. 2 Oregon State on Friday. The softball team also run-ruled No. 3 UCLA on Sunday.