Technically speaking, Rece Davis is not one of college football’s Founding Fathers. Despite the fact that he resides in New England these days, Davis is too young to play that part and has never worn a powdered wig in his life.
On the other hand, Davis, the well-respected host of ESPN’s College Gameday, the Saturday morning prelude to autumn afternoons and the primer for a huge audience on the major stories of the week, carried a certain gravitas. He steers a middle course on almost all stories and while the fact that he attended Alabama rankles a few fiery fans of other constituencies and conferences, he’s probably as close as the sport comes to having an honest broker these days.
So when we had a preseason telephone chat on Wednesday, observing, among other things, how the gradual trend of conferences having their media gatherings some early means that the echo of the final firecracker on Thursday will also be the opening bell, from a media standpoint, for College Football. And that conversation then moved to the most relevant of all Fourth of July topics: freedom.
“The biggest story going into the season is how the transfer portal has changed things,” Davis said. “And you know what? I’m good with it.
“That doesn’t make me too popular with some of the coaches. But I don’t mind going on the record with it.
“Anything that gives the player more freedom, then I’m for it.”
The gradual easing of the transfer rules hasn’t been universally embraced. Davis says he understands “the frustration of fans and of coaches who want to have more control.” He agrees that there “has to be more consistency in place” in terms of the way transfer waivers are applied. In some cases, like Luke Ford’s transfer to Illinois, the waiver system works against them. Then in some cases, and I don’t want to single anyone out, but in some cases, guys get approved just because they didn’t think they were playing enough.”
Davis said that, even in those cases, he tends to side with the player.
“About the only good reason I can come up with to be against (player movement without a sit-out penalty) is nostalgia,” he said. “There are fans out there who love good old State U. and they think that a player who signs there should stay until graduates. They think ‘I would do anything to play for State U., and so should the players.
“But maybe a player has given everything he has to give and it just hasn’t worked out for him, and he doesn’t need to stay to the finish. Do kids make mistakes in those situations sometimes? Sure. But sometimes coaches make mistakes, too. Maybe not as often, but it happens. They decide a guy is just a special teams player, and he thinks he’s a starter, and I think he has every right to pursue that.
“I don’t think every kid is looking to leave the first time things don’t go his way. I think people underestimate the one that is formed between a player and his team, his coaches and his teammates. We need to give the kids a little more of a say in their lives, just like we all have if we don’t like our job.”
Much of that debate is philosophical. Some of it is economic. But it is also an issue that will affect the 2019 season in a profound way, a development that Davis is astute enough to recognize.
“For an Oklahoma (with Jalen Hurts) or an Ohio State (with Justin Fields), it might be the quarterback who transferred in. For some other teams, it’s the guy who transferred out and isn’t available. It’s that old cliche about every team ‘being a sprained ankle away from disaster,’ but it could be true. And it’s not just injury. I went to Clemson’s second game last year (at Texas A&M), and Kelly Bryant really bailed Clemson out in that game. Look at Jalen in the SEC Championship Game. Now, there are teams with one proven quarterback or a talented freshman, but they don’t have that other guy.”
All of that will play out with college football starting in just a few weeks — and, speaking a sentiment that unites us all, not a minute too soon.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cecilhurt