SEC coaches sound off on tampering: It's 'a cutthroat business'

May 30, 2023, 3:29 PM

DESTIN, Fla. -- While college football coaches bemoan the prevalence of tampering when it comes to the transfer portal, Florida's Billy Napier acknowledged the driving force behind rule-bending in recruiting, telling reporters on Tuesday, "This is a cutthroat business."

Ever since the advent of the transfer portal five years ago, coaches have warned about the possibility of recruiting players on other teams' rosters.

NCAA rules stipulate that players cannot be contacted by coaches until they've officially submitted their names into the portal. But coaches at SEC spring meetings and across the country said that it's happening frequently.

"There's no doubt tampering is real," Napier said. "... And I think that until there's something done about it, I think that you'll continue to see it."

What can be done to stop it, however, is up for debate.

Very few coaches have shown a willingness to call one another out for perceived wrongdoing. Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi has been vocal, questioning the transfer last year of Jordan Addison from the Panthers to USC. To which Napier asked, "What's come of that?"

Thus far, the NCAA has not publicly punished any FBS coaches for tampering.

"So ultimately, I think, to each his own, we all got an approach that we've chosen to take," Napier said. "We're going to control what we control at the University of Florida. That's our player experience, that's our evaluation process, our recruitment process to try to position our team in the best position."

Georgia coach Kirby Smart pointed out that tampering was happening well before the portal came into existence.

"It's probably more prevalent because it's much easier to transition from one school to the other," Smart said, referencing the NCAA decision in 2021 to allow players to change schools once without having to sit out. "But look, if kids are exploring to leave, it's really hard to police."

Smart referenced something other coaches have brought up regarding tampering: the prevalence of third parties in the transfer process.

Often, it's a trainer or a high school coach that initiates conversations with coaching staffs on behalf of players ahead of their entry into the portal, gauging interest. And the NCAA can't punish those individuals.

"It's hard to police that," Smart said. "So, it's disturbing, it's upsetting, but I really don't know [what can be done]. People want to blame the coaches for tampering. But a lot of the time it is the player who is negotiating or is looking for greener pastures and when they do that, sometimes they create the tampering. It goes both ways."

Smart said that the portal and the prospect of tampering has impacted how he manages his roster.

The time needed to put toward retention, he said, is difficult to manage as many decisions about whether or not to transfer happen late in the season when conference championship and playoff spots are on the line.

"We spend a lot of time on connection and having conversations [with players about], 'Where are you? Are happy with where you are? If you're not, what can we do to improve that and improve you as a player? Do you think you're being developed?'" Smart said. "... I always throw Quay Walker out. He was a kid that never started until his third year and he went in the first round [of the NFL draft]. Most kids are ready to leave if they're not starting by their third year. And he was a great example.

"But again, it is a lot more energy now in terms of spending with your own roster and just trying to maintain it. It's not just the portal. It's the combination of the portal, NIL, everything going on that makes it at times excruciating."

Auburn coach Hugh Freeze said he expects the issue of tampering to come up during meetings with coaches and administrators this week.

He said he has a preference on a possible solution but asked, "Is it doable in today's time?"

"I would love to see it go back to players not being able to transfer and be immediately eligible unless the coach leaves or fired or they graduate," Freeze explained. "And I think that eliminates tampering. People are not going to come take players if they have to sit out, unless it's one of those two reasons.

"But I don't think that will ever happen again. So outside of that, I don't know how you really stop some of the discussions that will take place."