Jordan Addison is on the short list of college football's best players, so his entry into the transfer portal was inevitably going to cause a stir. But something about this week's news that the defending Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top receiver is leaving Pitt resonated in a way few -- if any -- other transfer situations have.
Addison is clearly incredibly talented. He's exceptional as a slot receiver, recording 133 catches from that position over the past two seasons -- by far the most of any FBS player in that span -- and a home run hitter with 33 catches of 20 yards or more last season (again, tops in FBS). He's also a deep-ball threat, dangerous with the ball in his hands and a red zone master.
Stars have transferred before, of course. In just the past few months Caleb Williams, Spencer Rattler, Jahmyr Gibbs and others have entered the portal, though Williams was following his old coach, Rattler had been benched and needed a fresh start and Gibbs was leaving a losing team. Even in a world in which thousands of players enter the transfer portal every year, it's rare that an established star like Addison on a team that just won its league and played in a New Year's Six game -- one that didn't experience a coaching change -- heads for possibly greener pastures.
Amid reports that a lucrative name, image and likeness deal could be in play, concerns about tampering were immediately raised and many administrators noted this was hardly the intended use of NIL legislation, which took effect last summer.
In other words, Addison became the face of what most fans consider college football's new, largely lawless free-agent market -- a big star commanding big money on the open market in a sport that, less than a year ago, would have considered all of this grounds for a years-long investigation, bowl bans, scholarship losses and pink slips for coaches.
And now, it's just the new reality of a sport trying to figure out what the future should look like. Addison's decision became the latest warning sign to fans and coaches across the country that, in this new landscape, no one's roster is secure.
Our panel of reporters breaks down the effects of Addison entering the portal and what this could mean for the sport.
-- David M. Hale
What could other schools be thinking in watching what Pitt is experiencing?
Andrea Adelson: Let us get one thing straight here. Pitt is the defending ACC champion but could do little to stop Addison from pursuing another opportunity. There is no sugar-coating what a blow this is to not only the team itself, but the program, which must now grapple with its place among other Power 5 programs in the specific area of NIL and collectives. Addison was clearly the jewel of the Pitt offense as its best returning player, a Biletnikoff Award winner ready to put his name alongside Larry Fitzgerald among the all-time Pitt receiver greats.
But in this new world, that simply was not enough. This seems like a wakeup call not only to Pitt in this new college football world, but to other programs that perhaps do not have the glitz, glamour and national cache of other programs. There are clear tiers among Power 5 schools when it comes to national publicity, television opportunities, revenue and facilities. In the way coaches leave for jobs in higher tiers, perhaps this is a sign players of Addison's caliber will begin doing so more frequently. We have already seen it in the Group of 5 level, where teams are having a harder time holding on to good players they scouted and developed. Is the same about to happen with Power 5 All-Americans?
Intentionally or not, Addison is sending a signal that what Pitt has to offer -- as a Power 5 conference champion -- is clearly no longer going to be enough for some players moving forward.
What are CFB power brokers saying about this move?
Heather Dinich and Adam Rittenberg: College administrators and coaches meeting this week in Arizona did not publicly discuss the Addison situation specifically, but it came up during their closed-door discussions, as well as the general issue of player tampering.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told ESPN it's imperative to enforce rules prohibiting the use of NIL as a recruiting inducement or pay for play.
"Either the NCAA is going to get its act together in enforcing this," he said Wednesday, "or I'm going to be pushing for a smaller group to figure out how to create and enforce the NIL rules that we all agree on related to inducement and pay for play. The amount of an NIL payment should be commensurate with the work done as a backstop to make sure we're not using it related to inducement and pay for play."
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, the chair of the ACC coaches' group and a member of the AFCA board, told ESPN on Wednesday coaches are "very concerned" because tampering is "happening so frequently."
"This isn't new," he said. "I think it's just been exacerbated because of the name, image and likeness component of it. You've never ever been able to control what third parties do. There's always this plausible deniability that if you do want to tamper, you can hide behind that. If you don't want to tamper, it's hard to prevent a third party from doing that. It's really -- like so many things in college football now -- there's a lot of gray."
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond told ESPN, "As you know, it's not the most friendly environment right now," before adding that, "We're all colleagues, we all want what's best for our student-athletes and you've just got to talk about it, and put it on the table."
What are these transfer windows being proposed and what could they solve?
Rittenberg: The transfer windows would provide some structure around player movement through the portal. Rather than a constantly active portal until May 1, there would be two windows for portal activity: one from late November until the early signing day for recruiting in mid-December, and another from April 15 until May 1. Both coincide with contact periods in recruiting.
The American Football Coaches Association proposed transfer windows four years ago before the portal went into effect, and believe windows will organize things better, both for teams and players.
The benefit for coaches and teams is obvious. "Right now, we're in turmoil, partly because of the chaos of the portal," AFCA executive director Todd Berry said. But the windows are being billed as helping players through a better understanding of the overall landscape.
"There have to be windows, just to have some idea of what the team's going to look like, and for kids to know when it's time to leave," Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said. "There are two legitimate windows, after the season and after spring [practice]. To assume [players] can make a decision after just a season, you're assuming recruiting isn't going to play a role in their decision. You have to see who did they sign, and what did the recruiting class look like and then [in] spring ball, who came early. 'I thought I was the second back but I'm really the fourth back.' Who left early? You have to give them that opportunity."
What does a move like Addison's say about college football in 2022?
Adelson: That depends upon who you ask. Those at Pitt believe this says there is no such thing as loyalty anymore, that any player can be bought. But those at USC, should Addison land there as has been rumored, will tell you that it used the transfer portal the way it was intended and did not tamper or violate any rules. There obviously is a much larger gray area in between. But if there are not going to be rules or restrictions placed on NIL or collectives disguised as pay for play, then everyone should have a right to seek out the best opportunity possible. Coaches seek out better opportunities and more money year after year and call them "business decisions." Now that players are allowed to participate in the "business of college football," why would anyone be surprised this is where we have arrived? Some would even say it's about time players get their due.
Kyle Bonagura: These types of moves were inevitable with the transfer and NIL changes. Whether anyone had the foresight to project this exactly doesn't matter, neither does anyone's opinion on if it's good or bad. It's hilarious that coaches might have a problem with a star player transferring in May when head coaches (who are paid millions of dollars, often protected by ridiculous buyouts) regularly leave their programs during the season for what they deem better opportunities. Ultimately, the current state of things will make it tougher for smaller schools to compete, and that dynamic has the potential to lead to a massive restructure in the sport. College football is not an amateur sport. There is too much money involved for that idea to be preserved. The sooner it stops pretending that's the case, the better off everyone will be.
Paolo Uggetti: It's interesting to me that one of the factors connecting Addison to USC is his regional relationship with USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Both Williams and Addison are from the Washington, D.C., area. While I'm certain the opportunity to play for Lincoln Riley, make L.A.-adjacent NIL money and be in Southern California for a year before turning pro are all part of the package that's appealing to Addison, should he decide to go to USC, the relationship with Williams is not insignificant and says a lot about where the sport is, too. College football has always genuflected at the feet of the star quarterback. Now, the star quarterback has public superstar power, not just attention, and is flexing it. For a place like USC, that means being in position to add a player like Addison. For a place like Pittsburgh, that means being left in a position where it can do close to nothing to counter. The tables have been turning for a while, but it seems we've arrived at a point where the same money-fueled frenzy that powers the coaching carousel each season will also feature prominently in the transfer portal. And as programs that lose coaches to bigger schools or bigger deals have come to accept, that's just the reality of the business.
What's one realistic change you would make that could alleviate these issues?
Bonagura: That depends on what issue(s) we are trying to solve. Coaches have their priorities. Players have theirs. Fans have theirs. It's the same for writers or media-rights holders. Everyone, really. There are no simple changes that can satisfy everyone or equally benefit all stakeholders. It's too early to fully understand how the current structure will impact the sport, including the fan experience, but giving players more control of their own future is without question a positive for them. Are things more chaotic? Absolutely. Part of that is because it's new and people don't know what to expect. Once the novelty wears off, my sense is perspectives will change.
Adelson: To me, this is not so much about the transfer process as the larger pay-for-play issue. Addison is well within his rights to transfer by the May 1 deadline. I would like the portal to be off limits over the length of the regular season, and as Adam said earlier, that is one change being discussed. But policing NIL, tampering and pay for play are separate issues entirely. That's because tampering did not just start in this NIL era. Neither did pay for play. What is different is that both are now more in the open thanks to NIL, which is being used in a way that was not intended in some of these cases. How does anyone stop a third party from reaching out? Classifying players as employees is the logical answer, but the NCAA is very clearly not going down that road.
Hale: If college football has reached an era of de facto free agency, then the sport simply needs to go all-in. The fence-straddling, largely lawless nature of player movement right now is what most riles fans, coaches and administrators. Indeed, it's potentially dangerous for players, too, in the long run. Guardrails and regulations do not need to be prohibitive for players, but contract offers should be above board; transfers need to happen during designated windows so free agency isn't a 24/7/365 season; and schools should be playing by the same, clearly stated (and enforceable) set of rules. If that means designating athletes as employees, allowing them to unionize and collectively bargaining the rules for the college marketplace, so be it. Any semblance of structure is better than the chaos Addison's move could foretell.
Uggetti: Is it bad if I kind of like it this way? I know, I know it's not sustainable or particularly orderly, but the outrage that has ensued from players upending an organization that has failed to adapt and evolve at every turn has been my kind of schadenfreude. I agree with Hale that, in an ideal world, the NCAA's full embrace of free agency (and of athletes as employees) could actually bring some order to all of this, but nothing about its track record suggests it will do that. Pro sports also have an impossible task in attempting to appease many stakeholders, but they at least have the systems to collectively bargain and reach some sort of agreement. Until we reach that point, whenever it might be, maybe it's just best to embrace the chaos.