Player tampering has college coaches questioning transfer portal process


Jeff Traylor was about to name names. A perpetrator from a Power Five school, the UTSA coach says, used an NIL offer hoping to persuade two of his players leave the Roadrunners. The players in question had not entered the transfer portal.

All the participants shall remain nameless, but Taylor came darn close to outing the sources of his frustration only to ultimately remain silent.

"You know what the narrative is going to be: 'The coaches are going to leave. Why can't the players leave?' That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying you shouldn't be messing with someone's kids not in the portal," Traylor explained CBS Sports.

The UTSA coach's exasperation took form a couple of weeks ago when he posted a tweet asking the NCAA how to report "Power Five schools who are trying to poach our young talent."

Whether he got an answer from Indianapolis shall remain confidential as well.

For many, that tweet capsulized the transactional nature of what recruiting has become.

What used to be cheating is now the cost of doing business. The line between ethics and a scholarship offer are blurred so much one needs eyeglasses.

What Traylor alleged is the commission of an NCAA violation. It's called "impermissible contact." The street name is tampering. No quotes needed around that term. It's so prevalent these days that Traylor is hardly the only one complaining.

Among the coaches to make accusations of improper inducements is Pittsburgh's Pat Narduzzi.

Narduzzi last year made similar accusations after losing leading wide receiver Jordan Addison to USC. The Trojans were reported to be Addison's likely destination before he even entered the transfer portal.

You might conclude that 99% of coaches wouldn't go that far with their frustrations, but we've already seen Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher fight it out in public.

That beef was unseemly, but it revealed the rising stakes of player transfer freedom. Those two icons are bigger than the schools for which they work. They can afford to express their opinions. There were virtually no consequences except for public ridicule over a millionaire slap flight.

Traylor, a Texas high school coach for a quarter century, says he'll only go so far as bringing the situation to light. He doesn't want to be "that guy seeking attention."

"I'd love to just give you the school, the name and let's get this thing going," Traylor said. "I just don't see how. That school knows now, so they've backed away from my kids."

And maybe that's enough for now, but we all know it isn't in the long term.

This free-for-all started July 1, 2021, when the NCAA ceded its power to regulate recruiting. There were so many states with so many NIL laws that the association couldn't play legal whack-a-mole without finding itself in the crosshairs.

Now filling the void are unscrupulous talent acquisition experts. The process has become so refined coaches don't even have to be involved.

"It's hard to name names in our business," TCU coach Sonny Dykes explained. "It's the one thing you don't do. The way this stuff happens … typically it's not a coach that reaches out to a player. It's [someone else] talking to one of your players. Or his trainer calls … or a high school coach.

"It's kind of the way it's always been, and there is nothing you can do about that."

Even the most upstanding recruits and their families can be swayed by potential NIL riches. It's part of the recruiting process. Before inquiring about playing time, academics or quality of campus life, some may walk into a coach's office asking how much they can get. It's legal. It's business.

Dominic Raiola is just now witnessing the culture. His son Dylan -- a Phoenix quarterback ranked No. 1 overall in the Class of 2024 -- just decommitted from Ohio State. Dad was a legend at Nebraska and played 14 years in the NFL.

"What do you do with tampering?" Dominic wondered. "Do you keep the receipts and turn it in and you get a penalty? Then it just becomes a he said, she said."

That's part of the reasoning for Traylor not yet dropping a dime. He is concerned about not only outing a colleague but opening a crack in the recruiting earth.

UTSA is somewhere near the bottom of the recruiting food chain where, NIL or not, his best players could be enticed to leave for larger programs. (The Roadrunners, however, do have the No. 2 recruiting class among Group of Five programs, No. 54 overall in the 247Sports Composite.)

"My wife said, 'Why not just call the [offender] on the phone and let him know you know,'" Traylor shared. "I said, 'Baby, would you really call a thief fixing to break in your house and let him know you know? I need to do something in between.'"

That Traylor has resorted to these sort of guerilla tactics emphasizes the problem.

Sources said that NCAA officials have stood before coaches' conventions in both football and basketball asking for help nabbing those making impermissible contact. What they get back is little cooperation.

There is a code of silence in the coaching profession. The Mafia calls it omerta. So yes, a lot of this is on the coaches themselves for not speaking up. Either everything stays within the coaching fraternity, or perhaps one needs to step up and name names.  

Still, the predation of his players could become so frustrating Traylor might have to listen to future Power Five offers that have come his way. Traylor isn't saying that, but that's the next evolution of a head coaching career that has taken off. It's obvious Traylor can coach. The Roadrunners have won back-to-back Conference USA titles and sit 23-5 over the last two seasons.

If an expanded College Football Playoff was in place, UTSA might have been included in the 2022 field.

One head coach who did not want to be identified put the culture this way: "If I gave my source on this one [instance of tampering], it would be a lightning storm, and I just don't want to do it. I know it sounds very chicken of me."

Coaches have lashed out before making accusations without much proof. North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye got a $5 million NIL offer? Really? From whom? Not exactly true, Maye told ESPN.

"Offering a kid $5 million is kind of a big deal," Dominic Raiola said, "but [the headline] kind of goes away in a couple of days."

There has been speculation that collective bargaining is on the horizon. The school could want, say, a two-year commitment from a player in return for a cash stipend. (Presently, schools are not allowed to directly pay NIL benefits.)

Federal law has assured that benefits, including cash, cannot be capped in that situation. That would be an antitrust violation.

That's assuming there remains a student aspect to being a college athlete, another place in this discussion where the line is getting blurred. Not much has changed since 1988 when former Notre Dame star Ricky Watters changed his architecture major because it conflicted with football.

How soon before a star player misses practice for a commercial shoot? How soon before his teammates call him on it?

"The upside [to NIL] is for those who can actually handle it and focus on football," TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston said. "The downside is people get too caught up with it and don't perform like they should."

The NCAA Transformation Committee on Tuesday recommended sweeping changes that included enhanced medical benefits for athletes that are a long time coming. However, in the same document, it referred to the legal uncertainties of NIL and employment status.

"We simply need a clear, stable framework under which to address [those issues]," the committee stated in the document. "Congress is the only entity that can grant that stability."

In that one sentence, the NCAA recognized not only its biggest failing but also its desperation. If Congress is the only solution in the compensation debate, we're flirting with federal oversight of college athletics.

That cannot be addressed in a tweet. But if there was one getting thumbed out it, would be this: Be careful what you wish for.

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